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Meaningful Differentiation for Rich Interactive Applications and the ALIVE Design Manifesto

Back in April 08, I posted a blog article, Demystifying the ‘Differentiated’ User Experience (UX)”. In that article, I tried to shed some light on the new buzzword (or buzz-phrase), ‘differentiated UX’, used by Microsoft evangelists to promote emerging UX technologies like Silverlight and WPF. I suggested that the entire ‘differentiation argument’ seemed to focus on the ‘means’ and not the ‘ends’ to be met. I also promised a few more posts to suggest a way forward to correct this and achieve meaningful differentiation.

This article is the first in a series of articles I plan to write to take this topic forward.


In this article, we will consider the rational for having a new approach - 'ALIVE' Design as we call it - to achieve this UX differentiation. 


Differentiated or otherwise, when one talks about ‘user experience’, it important to keep in mind that the term gets used (and at times abused) in different ways by different people. While I like the broad, more holistic reach this term gives as compared to user interface design or interaction design, there are some pitfalls. Two key lessons I have learned through all my years in design practice.


1.       User experience is a deeply personal thing. How people ‘experience’ a product – interactive or otherwise -is rooted in their past and present experiences, and also in their aspirations about future experiences. Genuine understanding and empathy about those past, present and future experiences is the key. Only by understanding what experiences people dream of and aspire to can we hope to develop meaningfully differentiated user experiences.


2.        Latest user experience technologies give us the capabilities to build cool user experiences. But user experience differentiation does not happen when it is built and ready. It can only happen when it is consumed and experienced. With clever manipulation of design technology faculties, there is a lot that the designer can do to guide the kind of experiences and emotions the design will evoke. Great designers have almost made a science out of this. But even they agree, they can only build and hope. The ultimate experience is personal, and so may defy all the logic used for differentiation.


This is why all the talk about building differentiated user experiences, with all its stress on technology, needs a rethink. What we need is a methodology that deploys technology to address user aspirations.  Silverlight, WPF or any other RIA technology should not be reduced to building ‘flashy’ interactive toys. They should be put to use to make the digital world around us more like what we aspire it to be.

Very often, these aspirations are about making the digital technology more life-like. This way, the barriers between the man and the machine – borne out of interpretations and translations - start to disappear. This is what ALIVE design tries to get its inspiration from.

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