In our HCI seminar this week, we wandered over to the more emotional aspects of products and got our fluffy on - kicking off with a group activity that involved drawing a diagram showing the relationship between usability and user experience. Cue lots of chalk-drawn pyramids, balances, and a particularly curious sketch from one team involving leaping frogs.

My lot went with a graph showing usability and UX on separate axes, and plotting a few products on said graph. Whilst logically one might expect usability to be a foundation of user experience, it seemed straightforward to find examples of products which would lead to an after-the-fact warm fuzzy feeling (which one might associate with "good UX") and yet had poor usability: the fashion industry provides lots of examples, I think. Equally I can think of usable products which really don't provide much in the way of joy.

Other factors which occurred to us were how much choice users have (only got one place to get a product? then there's not much competitive pressure for the architects of that product to spend effort making it good), and that usability, being easier to measure, might be more accountable and thus easier to budget for in most organisations, than UX.

It was a strange seminar; probably the most engaged that the (quite large) class has been, thus far, with any topic - which was great to see. But I found it strangely unsatisfying - we kept falling back into term definition ("what is a positive user experience?"), a debate I'm sick to the back teeth of from certain segments of industry, and was hoping academia might avoid. And we found that ranking criteria for user experience objectively would depend on the product - so every answer tended towards "it depends". I'd like to do the same activity with a couple of specific products in mind, and maybe be encouraged to think negatively: what, of this list of lovely fluffy adjectives, would you not prioritise?

I am really looking forward to the exercise we were set, though: to think about the experience of public transport, consider a small part of it, do some observation, and think about how to do interviews and questionnaires around it. Really hands-on practical stuff, to a depth I've not gone in my career. If you're in Brighton station next week and I loom towards you with a clipboard, please don't be frightened.