User Experience: Where Mouse Meets Pixel

I was commenting on Kevin Hodgson’s site, Dogtrax, this morning about Argubot Academy, a hybrid game/learning site. He was impressed overall, but wondered how it would fit into his iPad-less classroom.  Like most of his reviews, it is clear, concise and highly recommendable.

What marks them especially is that they are great examples of user experience (UX) feedback.  I suggested to him that maybe he could make an investigation with a smaller focus group of students and make it all about how to do UX.  It occurred to me that maybe I should do the same? What follows is a very shallow dip into UX reflection.

OK, here is a site called “California’s Getting Fracked” that really shakes up my user experience in two ways: content and navigation.

Let me describe it.  The content is about the extent of fracking in California’s L.A.  Basin. When you first go to the site you see a large map that frames the text. OK, nice map.  At first I didn’t get it, but as I moused over the text something marvelous happened–the map turned into a visualization of the text.

The site is a triumph of connection.  It marries text to context.  In other words it takes the text about fracking and links it as we read to the map provided.  And it does it simply by scrolling, no clicking needed.How the heck did they do that?  How might I apply this?  You can see a ‘sort of’ version of this in Genius except that you have to click to get the annotations.

You can also get a similar effect by using Diigo’s annotation tools, but again you have to click.

There is no friction between text, data, and image on the “California’s Getting Fracked” site. None. That is new for me and my brain likes it…a lot. I get that embodied click when I realized what was going on and it made me want more.

So who benefits from delineating user experience? First, learners do. Part of learning is coming to terms with text, subtext, context, pretext. Reflecting on your own user experience while doing that “coming to terms” is invaluable and not particularly difficult. All you have to do is to observe yourself in action. Second, sharing out as a learner is a way to secure that learning connection both within and without. Everyone knows that explaining something to someone else is a time honored way of reinforcing the learning in oneself. It’s the great and happy secret of professional teaching–you get paid to learn. Last, it has potential benefit to the original makers of the site. (A further bonus to me might be that I write the site and ask who I might talk to about how they did what they did.)

My larger takeaway is that I need to know how to be more systematic in understanding and practicing user experience. Any site (including one’s own) might prove fruitful ground, but Kevin’s site is a particularly good example of one I need to explore. He pretty much does UX all the time by reviewing books, sites, and games. I need to have a Google Hangout with him about his thoughts on this. Perhaps inviting others who are interested as well?

Also, I see UX as a really good way to write my way into some of the tech tools I assign in my courses like, Diigo, and Zotero. What I mean when I say ‘write my way in’ is that if I am going to ask students to have a ‘user experience’ with a new tool, then I need to know about their new user reflections. I think I will provide them with a set of open ended questions, maybe a checklist on ways to approach this reflective task, or nothing at all, or…a buffet of all of the above. They will write back, talk back, share back…unlike the kitteh below.