Characteristics & Principles Combined

Here’s a combined version of the diagrams.


IA Summit Poster

Last weekend I showed the Characteristics poster at the IA Summit in Phoenix. Included are a couple of characteristic name changes, a new characteristic – “responsiveness” and a new “grocery shopping” full example. Here’s the PDF (this is the full-size poster).


The Experience of a Live Conference vs a Recorded Video

Preparations for the IA Summit in 2010 are underway (Jen Bohmbach and Livia Labate are chairing it) and recent discussions amongst the program committee got me thinking about the experience of attending a conference and seeing a presentation live vs seeing it afterward on video from your home /office. So here goes:

  • Informational: Both experiences are very informational – not much difference here.
  • Controllable: Control is very much in the hands of the presenter during the live session and much more so in the hands of the viewer for the video experience.
  • Social: The live experience is probably a more social experience, you’re typically sitting next to people – maybe even talking with them about the presentation.
  • Personal: Neither experience is very personal.
  • Scoped: Both experiences are well scoped – presentations typically focus on communicating something specific.
  • Learnable: Both experiences are very learnable – that’s generally the point of a presentation after all!
  • Configurable: Neither are very customizable, although a video presentation might allow things like viewing transcripts or even translations.
  • Adaptive: A video experience typically isn’t adaptive. However, a live presenter can be very adaptive – to the reception the audience is giving them, the time, even environmental factors (lighting, acoustics, etc).
  • Playful: A live presenter can do more to engage the audience directly with some fun activities.
  • Impartial: Although the topic may be the same, a live presenter has more opportunity to influence the audience because of the more direct and immediate delivery.
  • Connected: Both experiences may stand alone or be part of a set, however, a video experience might find it easier to more immediately connect the user to other similar experiences.
  • Sensory: A live presentation has the edge here, the physical nature allowing many more senses to be engaged than a video presentation.
  • Accessible: A video presentation is clearly much more accessible – you can view it from your home, office, or anywhere on a mobile device. In fact this characteristic is really the biggest differentiator between the two and the one that balances the advantages of “being there in person”.
  • Findable: The experiences can’t really be compared on this characteristic but they both face different challenges – anyone who has been to a conference must have had the experience of trying to find the right room, and who hasn’t been ‘lost’ on the web?

Two Principles redefined, Three Characteristics added

After thinking about non-web or software experiences for a while i’ve decided to redefine the “connectedness” and “controllable” principles as characteristics.  So the only ‘must have’ principles are; Relevant, Comprehensible and Aesthetic, the two moved characteristics i’ve redefined as:

  • Controllable: (Merged with Actionable) Does the ‘provider’ (left side) or ‘user’ (right side) have control over the experience? e.g. riding a roller coaster (provider control) vs playing World of Warcraft (user control).
  • Connected: Is the experience a single ‘stand-alone’ interaction or ‘integrated’ across many parts? e.g. renting a movie at a rental store (stand-alone) vs renting a move at Netflix (where the website, emails and mail envelope are integrated).

I’ve also added three new characteristics:

  • Sensory: To what degree does the experience engage all of the five senses? e.g. listening to a song in your car (one-dimensional – audio) vs listening to the same song at a concert (immersive – audio, visual, smell, touch).
  • Accessible: To what degree is the experience ‘fixed’ (you go to it) vs ‘portable’ (it comes to you). e.g. Driving 15 miles to a movie theater to see a movie (fixed) vs Watching a movie on your iPod (portable).
  • Findable: To what degree is the experience ‘hidden’ vs ‘obvious’. e.g. Playing World of Warcraft (where many things are hidden) vs playing Monopoly (where board position, properties, money, etc are obvious).

I’m not completely comfortable with the term ‘accessible’, because ‘accessibility‘ is already in common use. I haven’t been able to find an alternative yet though – i’ve considered ‘proximity’ and ‘movable’ but neither are great.

I’ll be posting more (multi-channel) examples of these in the coming days and an updated set of diagrams to reflect the changes.

The Characteristics & Principles applied to Service Experiences

Dennis Breen from nForm recently sent me a wonderful email with some great ideas and questions. With his permission here’s our conversation.


> Hi Richard,
> Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the characteristics of experience.
> I’m wondering how (or if) user effort would fit into your framework. I’ve
> been thinking about some recent experiences, and effort seems to
> have an important impact on my feelings about an interaction. Let me
> illustrate.

Hi Dennis, I think ‘effort’ is applicable across all of the principles
and characteristics – if a user has to exert an inappropriate amount
for the return they see then its a ‘bad’ experience. The examples
below are some great situations, I hadn’t really thought about how the
framework applies to service experiences but here are some initial

> Experience 1: I had a defective rain jacket from a cycle company (it leaked
> badly and the dye bled onto clothing underneath). I contacted them. They
> hummed and hawed. Finally they asked me to send the jacket for analysis. I
> did so. They told me the jacket leaked because it was worn through by
> backpack straps. The jacket was new, and a backpack had never been worn
> with it. They hummed and hawed some more. Finally, after much cajoling,
> they gave me a new jacket and a cheap cycling jersey. I (sort of) got what I
> wanted, but the effort was so great that I vowed never to purchase their
> products again.
I would say here that what you were trying to do was exert some
“control” (controllable is one of the ‘principles’ in the other
diagram). You had an outcome in mind, but unfortunately had to exert
too much effort resulting in a bad experience.
> Experience 2: I rented a car. I had tire trouble (bulging sidewall, not a
> flat) far from the rental location. I visited the nearest rental office.
> They sent me to a tire shop. I waited as they tried to get approval to fix
> it from the original rental office (the local one couldn’t approve it). I
> finally got it done, but I wasted half a day of vacation. I left angry and
> frustrated. When I dropped the car off I told the attendant about the
> experience. He immediately offered to cut the price of the entire rental in
> half. I didn’t have to ask for a reduction – I just told him of the
> incident. He offered to make it right without hesitation. In the final
> interaction I had to give very little effort to get a positive result.

The first part of this experience is similar to the one above – too
much effort to ‘control’ the experience (getting the tire changed),
the last part is interesting – and ties into something I was just
putting together earlier today! I’ve been thinking that ‘relevance’
has four major aspects:

Environment (time, place, events)
Person (knowledge, abilities, demographics)
Situation (goal, task)
Experience (expectations, emotions)

I’ll be writing more about these on the blog, but I think your final
interaction with the car company is an example of exceeding your
relevant ‘expectations’ with very little effort on your part –
resulting in a great experience!

> Experience 3: I recently moved to a new city, where I bought a house. I had
> one trip to find a place, then negotiated from afar. I had to have a house
> inspection, an additional furnace inspection, and some other things done. My
> realtor handled everything for me without being asked. She would just say:
> you need x done. I know someone. I’ll call them for you if you like. She
> anticipated my needs, and I got everything I needed with virtually no
> effort.

So, elements of exceeding expectations again, but an interesting
aspect is the ‘anticipating your needs’ piece – which may well be an
‘adaptive’ experience (if she was changing her interactions with you
based on her ongoing interactions). If she was simply being a good
realtor, however, based on her experience in general then she was
probably being very ‘relevant’ (to your tasks/goals).

> So, in each of these cases I got a positive result. You might say I
> completed my task. But the feeling at the end is different because of the
> effort I had to expend in order to achieve my goal. Of course, there are
> other factors that affected each experience, but it seems that an
> interaction needs to have an appropriate level of effort. Maybe this relates
> to your Adaptive characteristic.

I’m hesitant to add ‘effort’ as a stand-alone since it seems as though
it always has to be paired with one of the other principles or
characteristics, but what do you think?

The UX of a printed book vs the Kindle

A colleague at work suggested I trying running the experience of reading a printed book and then a book on the Kindle through the characteristics, so here goes:

  • Informational: Printed books have a much higher resolution than the Kindle (300 DPI vs 167 PPI) and are unconstrained in size, unlike the Kindle’s 6″ or 9.7″ screen.  This gives the printed book an edge in the amount and complexity of information that can be displayed.  The Kindle, however, can hold over 1,500 books its modem allows instant access to over 300,000 titles.
  • Actionable: Printed books make no actions available, the Kindle on the other hand, allows readers to look-up terms, download other books, and more.
  • Social: Printed books have no social features (except perhaps writing in the margin – which is discouraged in most cases!).  The Kindle also has no social features – which is quite surprising considering what its capable of and who created it! Seth Godin has some great ideas that could move the Kindle up the social scale.
  • Personal: Printed books are usually very generic (identical for everyone), however, there are circumstances in which they can be personalized.  Our daughter, Abby, received a book on her first birthday that spelled out and used her name throughout.  The Kindle, as you might expect, offers a few more personalization features like bookmarking, annotations, loading your personal documents onto it, etc.
  • Scoped: Printed books are very narrow in scope, they present their text and pictures and nothing more.  The Kindle, on the other hand, as well as enabling you to read it like a printed book, lets you search, look-up words in a dictionary, gives you web access, it will even play music and read to you!
  • Learnable: I’m going to go out on a limb and explore an idea here by saying that a printed book is no more learnable than the Kindle.  They’re both self-directed experiences, however, the narrow scope and physical simplicity of a book makes its manipulation very comprehensible and controllable (see the principles of UX) vs the Kindle, which given its broader scope and electronic (stateful) nature has greater challenges to overcome (you don’t need to “switch on” a book!)
  • Configurable: Printed books are not configurable (maybe I can take the dust jacket off).  The Kindle, however, allows readers to change the text size (hmmm, is that the only way the Kindle is configurable?)
  • Adaptive: Neither printed book or the Kindle are adaptive (unless someone with a Kindle tells me otherwise?).  Perhaps an unintended adaptive aspect of a printed book might be that the more it gets opened at a certain page the more it will fall open at that page?
  • Playful: The printed format of a book isn’t very “fun” (of course the contents can be).  The Kindle shares this approach – the interface experience itself isn’t intended to be ‘fun’ – in fact its intended to be invisible: “Our top design objective was to make Kindle disappear–just like a physical book–so you can get lost in your reading, not the technology.”
  • Impartial: Printed books typically include a list of “other books by this author” and sometimes even a sample chapter from the next book in an attempt to influence the reader to buy another book.  Although I haven’t seen a Kindle for long enough, knowing Amazon i’m sure it turns these features “up to 11”.

These case studies are intended to explore the broad range of characteristics at a fairly shallow level for an experience.  I’ll also be diving into the details of individual characteristics in future posts. Please keep sending your ideas and comments!

The UX Characteristics of Cars

I was chatting with a couple of colleagues at work a few days ago about the “user experience” of cars, so I decided to run it through all ten of the characteristics.

  • Informational: The amount of information a car gives its driver is intentionally brief (compared to the amount of information it gives a technician who plugs in a diagnostic tool).
  • Actionable: Cars are meant to be driven – not just sat in. They actively support lots of actions.
  • Social: Driving a car is an individual experience. Some cars support social interaction by integrating features like curved mirrors so the driver can see backseat passengers and hands free phones, but that’s about all.
  • Personal: While cars are almost completely generic, some do have a few interesting personal features. My old BMW recognized my key fob from my wife’s and adjusted the seats, mirrors, AC and radio settings when unlocked (I loved this feature!)
  • Scoped: Cars have a fairly narrow scope, they get you from A to B, they move up the scale a little when they start to introduce things like DVD players, integrated phones, etc.
  • Learnable: Car controls are optimized for frequent, repeated use by self-directed, expert users.  That’s why people take lessons (with experts) to learn.
  • Configurable: Cars are not highly configurable (once you’ve bought one – the experience of buying one is more configurable).  You can move the seats forward/back/up/down, fold some seats and preset the radio but everything else is fixed.
  • Adaptive: Cars mostly exhibit static behavior, however there are a couple of interesting adaptive examples here.  Some cars are equipped with “adaptive steering” which turns the car more sharply at lower speeds and less at higher speeds when the steering wheel is turned the same amount.  My BMW had an adaptive automatic gearbox – it learned the driving style of the driver and adjusted its gear changes accordingly.
  • Playful: Driving a car can be a fun experience because of the thrill, excitement and danger they offer. A colleague of mine also mentioned a hybrid (I forget which) that praises the driver for an economical trip.
  • Impartial: The driving experience is fairly unbiased, cars don’t try to influence the choice of destination, for example. However, I suppose the nature of the car (Ferrari vs Mini-van) does influence the driving style!

The Characteristics & Principles of UX

This blog explores an idea I first posted on  The intent is to create a ‘language of critique’ for user experiences.  It was initially targeted at online user experiences but i’m hoping to extend it beyond that.  I’m going to regularly post new examples of each characteristic and principle and i’m hoping for suggestions and contributions!

  1. An introduction of “characteristics” and “principles”. (pdf | jpg)
  2. The characteristics. (pdf | jpg)
  3. The principles. (pdf | jpg)


charUX tweets

  • New post: The Experience of a Live Conference vs a Recorded Video. 13 years ago
  • New post: Controllable and Connected Principles redefined, Sensory, Accessible and Findable Characteristics added. 13 years ago
  • New blog post: The Characteristics & Principles applied to Service Experiences. 13 years ago
  • @daveixd Yeah, the iPhone kindle might be interesting to add. 13 years ago
  • @daveixd great minds .... ;-) 13 years ago