The UX Factor

May 11, 2011


Pics4Learning Mandelbroitset

As we know, traditional usability testing (as detailed in ISO standards), allows us to look at how effective and efficient a system performs against defined usability tasks.  However, in recent years, we have seen this term expand to become ‘user experience (UX)’ which looks beyond the functional and technical aspects of testing to consider how the social environment or wider human experiences and emotions can impact on user engagement with a system (Hassenzahl and Tractinsky 2006)

As technology is becoming more accessible and users more technologically sophisticated, we see that users are increasingly looking past the mere functionality of an application and seeking to engage in interactions that are not only usable but also offer a positive emotional experience.

But what does a positive emotional user experience mean? And how do we describe it?

The first definition I like is from Hassenzahl  and Tractinsky (2006) who consider UX as “a consequence of a user’s internal state (predispositions, expectations, needs, motivation, mood, etc.), the characteristics of the designed system (e.g. complexity, purpose, usability, functionality, etc.) and the context (or the environment) within which the interaction occurs (e.g. organisational/social setting, meaningfulness of the activity, voluntariness of use, etc.).”

McNamara and Kirakowski (2006) contend that engagement, pleasure, presence and fun have a huge impact on how users interact with a system.  They talk about investigating an individual’s personal experience of using technology and considering questions such as “how the person felt about the experience, what it meant to them, whether it was important to them, and whether it sat comfortably with their other values and goals.”

Beauregard et. al (2007) in their research to better understand a Quality User Experience propose a UX model that looks at user experience in terms of “Emotions, attitudes, thought and perceptions felt by users across usage lifestyle”.

And finally, coming back to Hassenzahl (2010)*  and my favorite description so far, when he talks about experience in terms of a Story “emerging from the dialogue of a person with her or his world through action”. He reminds us that this experience is “subjective, holistic, situated, dynamic, and worthwhile”.

So, while we may not yet have a complete definition or understanding of what constitutes a positive user experience,  the literature suggests that  much of the engagement is psychological in nature and dependant on the users’ attitudes, emotions and feelings.   Nor is it clear the extent these states vary dependent on the type of scenario the user is engaged with or indeed how they might change dependant on the user themselves.

As Oscar Wilde, another well-known UX expert, tells us ‘ the truth is rarely pure and never simple.”   

And though we may not know all the answers yet, asking questions is surely the first step on the road to understanding…


 *** This is from M Hassenzahl’s featured chapter from the excellent new on-line resource,   The mission of this group is “about the Democratization of Knowledge: That people from all the far corners of the world can get free access to world-class educational materials on HCI”

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Reference List

Beauregard, R. Younkin, A. Corriveau, P.  Doherty, R. Salskoy, E. (2007). ‘Assessing the Quality of User Experience’, Intel Technology Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1,pp.77-87.

Harper, R ,Rodden T,  Rogers Y &Sellen, A. (eds.) (2008), Being Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the year 2020.Cambridge. Microsoft Research Ltd.

Hassenzahl, M. &Tractinsky, N.(2006), ‘User experience – a research agenda’, Behaviour & Information Technology, Vol. 25, No. 2, March-April 2006, pp. 91 – 97.

McNamara, N.&Kirakowski, J. (2006).‘Functionality, Usability, and User experience: Three areas of Concern’. Interactions, November-December, pp. 26-28.


Moodle logo Improving Students’ Learning Experience of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in Higher Education.


Dr Stephan Weibelzahl and I are currently undertaking a user experience research study investigating how our NCI students engage with Moodle and how we can improve that experience.

Our study will then produce a report detailing students’ behaviour and guidelines on which teaching practices will improve the learners’ experience.

Our objectives are:

  1. To identify a list of most common tasks currently performed by students in VLEs.
  2. To conduct user study on NCI’s VLE (Moodle) including eye-tracking, usage observation and interview.
  3. To produce a report on students’ experience, highlighting usability issues and suggesting areas of improvement.
  4. To produce a booklet with instructional guidelines for lecturers on how to improve the use Moodle in their teaching practices.
  5. To conduct development workshops for NCI facutly to advise them on how to integrate recommendations into current learning and teaching practices.
  6. Through research and practitioner networks, make results of this study (lessons learned) available to other interested stakeholders, other HEA institutions, VLE and Moodle Learning and Teaching Networks.

This research is funded by NAIRTL and will run from Nov 2010 to June 2011