this is not my beautiful house · 15. August 2008, 19:46


There is no such thing as user experience.

I sometimes go a bit stir crazy in workshops, especially when I’m told off for using too many post-its… but there’s a sliver of truth to my facetiousness.

There’s certainly no such thing as managing the user experience. Or designing the user experience.

Something doesn’t work? Bad user experience.
Doesn’t do what I want? Bad user experience.
Can’t understand it? Bad user experience.
Bad service? Bad user experience.
It broke? Bad user experience.
Warranty or insurance issues? Bad user experience.
They were rude? Bad user experience.
The store was out of stock? Bad user experience.

User experience is just a strategy. A way of thinking – one that illuminates the possibilities to improve. One that shows new potentials, by looking at things in a new way. One that I believe in. But it’s certainly not the only strategy, and it’s a really hard strategy to implement well.

Name some companies with a good user experience. Virgin Atlantic? Yes, pretty good, but I’ve seen it break down many times – whilst they have an advantage in that the main experience can be scripted and even timed (you’re sitting prisoner in a metal tube), there’s still so much to go wrong. Airports, for example. And flying requires interaction with many employees, and each one has to believe and be empowered to make things better for customers. The jungle drums report that there’s lots of anger from flight attendants about their pay; it’s clear that people’s experiences will suffer quickly if the main people responsible for good service are unhappy.

Apple? Every time I go into an Apple Store in the UK, it makes me angry. From condescending staff, to product faults, to formal policy on a number of issues, Apple isn’t the joined-up experience company it could appear. Product experience? Pretty exemplary. Service? Not so much.

User experience is a personnel problem. Or HR, if you work in a company the size of a small country. Everyone in the company has to care about what they do. Everyone has to be paid and judged on how they improve the user experience. Furthermore, this has to be communicated to the investors and shareholders, and they have to believe that the company can pull it off. It’s a differentiator that’s hard to compete with, precisely because it’s so hard to do. So, there’s only one or two people in a company that can be a user experience manager. Normally it’s the CEO – they have to believe in the singular goal of an awesome experience at all costs.

Just as the words consumer and user are condesending to people, the word experience is condesending to the activity of people, or life. And it’s condescending to the people who work hard to create the products and services. Everyone seems to be an experience manager these days, but we should be proud of what we do. If you’re a UI designer, say you’re a UI designer. Or an interaction designer, a customer service designer, a product manager, a retailer, a repairman, a researcher… all play a part in the overall experience. Otherwise, you’re just angestellten – a salaried worker. Don’t try and fix everything (or be the one person who has to fix everything): find a company that believes in user experience, and find your niche and craft that lets you optimise your particular interaction for your customers. Play your part. Do your job.

That’s the only way to improve the experience for everyone.


Great manifesto! You’re right, Apple has poor service experience (cancelled by their exemplary product experience) — even the scarcity of Apple stores supports this impression.

“Just as the words consumer and user are condesending to people, the word experience is condesending to the activity of people, or life.”

Interesting, and I think true.


Rebecca Cottrell    15.08.08    #

Great post. I go stir crazy in workshops too, and get chastised for throwing pencils (not at anyone, just into the air) to emphasise my super-important points (and to provide entertainment to those on the threshold of sleep).

MK    16.08.08    #

I think you hit the nail on this manifesto. Term “user experience” has suffered from inflation in past two years and gets constantly wrongly understood and/or used. There is no such area as user experience management, because that, indeed, is not one person’s job. Not even two persons’ job.

This has lead to difficulties in competence development in e.g. user interface design, usability, graphic design, end user research etc. Even industrial design suffers from this bubble. Core competence level has diminished greatly and so called basic UI competence seems to be detoriating in increasing speed. How do UE professionals buld their career plans credibly, when the core competence is not secured and titles do not match their work? What is the vision for them

Great post Chris. Keep on doing your part.

Sami Paihonen    16.08.08    #

Yes. Yes. And yes.

Dan    16.08.08    #

I don’t have a problem with the word ‘experience ‘ per se, but it certainly is misused a lot. It’s especially annoying when people somehow speak as if user experience would be a property of a product (or service, to that matter). Because it’s not.

Experience happens only inside someone’s head. Therefore, I still somehow understand that design activities has an impact to it, but that it could be managed…?

panu    17.08.08    #

i prefer the word customer experience over “user experience”. it gets some of the unnecessary user experience diibadaaba out of the way and puts things (products, services) into perspective.. like you say, this requires an integrated, not a segregated approach.

v    22.08.08    #

I sign every single word. Also, companies use experiences provided by other companies as a reference instead of trying to create genuine and authentic solutions for their target users. There is more and more evidence of this chronic cloning, that could means that CEO lacks long term vision, or that vision is changing with every new “head of UX” replacement. UX is an abused word today as it was innovation 3-5 years ago. Lets wait for the burst.

enrique    27.08.08    #

What a great article. Thanks for this, Chris.

samin    27.08.08    #