Copy of "The Fight between Carnival and Lent" by Pieter Brueghel the Young

UX Research Is an Aesthetic Activity

This is a short note, largely to myself, to start a writing project about User Experience Design. In conversation with my colleagues last week it occurred to me that I really don’t know what I’m thinking about when I’m talking about “experience” and “design.” So, I’ve started drawing (French, dessin) a sketch for how to explore these terms.

Sketching (dessin) with a Miroboard in order to better track my plan (dessein) gives me the following:

Mindmap of what we can mean by the word “experience.”

To make that mindmap (dessein) I’m relying on Nathanael Stein’s definition of “experience” in the Dictionary of Untranslatables edited by Barbara Cassin, Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra, and Michael Wood. Obviously “experience” is a huge concept and so I can’t really do much of use without parsing-out sections of this constellation. I’m thinking that I’ll come here and write about what I find as I read-up on the terms and phrases that Stein points us toward in the above.

Initially I thought I’d start alphabetically and so, “affordance” was going to be the first entry. But then it occurred to me during a conversation with members of my team this morning that “aesthetic” comes before “affordance” and so I ought to begin there. In the title of this post I am asserting that what a UX Researcher does is an aesthetic activity, but what do I mean by that?

What I’m thinking is that the UX Researcher plays the role of sensory organ for the larger organism that is the organization. I’m leaning heavily on one dimension of the meaning of “aesthetic”—that part of the term that comes from the Greek aisthenanomai (αἰσθάωομαι) “to feel.” The opposite of “aesthetic” in my usage here, then, would be “anaesthetic,” that is, a lack of feeling or sensation.

Good UX Research will bring into the foreground the information that the organization may already be collecting but that information is being stored in the background, so to speak. The UX Researcher surfaces for specific stakeholders what has been occluded in the depths or extremities of the organization. The UX Researcher is not precisely creating new information but rather reorganizing what already exists in a manner that can be sensible to particular stakeholders within the organization. That rearrangement of what the organization has collected is, of course, a mode of creativity but it is not the generation of something new per se.