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Demystifying the ‘Differentiated’ User Experience

These days, Microsoft Evangelists are using a new buzzword – Differentiated User Experience’ -  to promote the capabilities of user interface technologies like WPF and Silverlight.  Needless to say, design community is scrambling to understand what this new term means and how they can build truly unique interfaces leveraging these technologies.

Before the dot.com boom, most of us that dealt with the design aspects of IT used to simply call ourselves as ‘user interface designers’. Some saw this term as too much of an overlap between the visual design and cognitive engineering aspects; and so started calling themselves ‘interaction designers’. Both these terms are still in common use and quite rightly so as they get the correct meaning across.

With the advent of Web and the internet build up boom that followed it, we started hearing more and more about User Experience Design.  From years spent in the field, I am of the opinion that it is a nice sounding word that tries to relate with the larger picture that designers care about, but is often misunderstood.  Experience means a lot of things to different people and even designers themselves struggle to have a unified view of what this means.

There are some who quite eloquently describe what User Experience Design, means while some like Uday Dandavate of SonicRim question the basic tenet that Designers can design the ‘experience’ for eventual users. During the IDSA Western District conference, Dandavate presented a talk entitled “The Scam Called Experience Design.” As reported by Stephanie Munson in Core77, Dandavate said: “We can’t hope to design experiences for people; rather, what we can (and should) do is co-create with the people for whom we are designing. In order to do so, we need to be empathizers, and in order to become empathizers we need to visit people’s homes and their imaginations. Designers should be looking for inspiration not in the slick design magazines (although we all love them), but in the real world and the world of imagination. Only by understanding deeply what experiences people dream of and aspire to can we then hope to innovate the tools they will use to get there.”
A new buzzword that is doing the rounds these days is ‘Differentiated’ User Experience. Brian Noye wrote a really good post about this some time back where he compares the buzz around this new term  with early days of ‘SOA’!
As the post continues, Brian tries to put some markers around what he thinks the term really means (or could mean).
So “differentiated UX” remains an ambiguous term at best. I think I know what it means when I hear it, because I have seen a number of examples that I think would qualify for that term, and have thought about what makes these applications different from the way they probably would have been written, appeared, and behaved had WPF not been available.
If you had to boil it down to a few key attributes, I would include the following:
·         Application styling and UI features create a unique and distinctive look and feel for the application
·         2D and 3D graphics are leveraged to provide better data visualization that traditional forms over data controls
·         Integrated data interaction across multiple different data views
·         User context hints provide richer context clues for the user about what they are doing or what they should do next (rich content tooltips, animated attention grabbers for focus shifts, etc.)
·         Location of user interface elements is less rigidly defined by the application shell, and may be completely in the control of the user. This may range from something as simple but important as dockable/floatable windows to a Microsoft Surface-like desktop metaphor where application ui widgets can be moved freeform around the screen by the user (Minority Report effect).
·         The UI framework (WPF/Silverlight) supports defining these features with a minimum of code
This is good beginning but in my view still too much focused on the ‘means’ and not the ‘ends’.  We are working on putting more focus on the ‘ends’ – what is it that designers should try to achieve as they try to build ‘differentiated’ user interfaces; and how can advanced UI technologies like WPF/Sliverlight help with this. In the coming weeks, I will post more stuff on our point of view on what ‘Differentiated’ user experience means to us.


Agree completely with Dandavate and I quote "Only by understanding deeply what experiences people dream of and aspire to can we then hope to innovate the tools they will use to get there.”
The technology (WPF, Silverlight) might provide the facility to differentiate, but actually the differentiation occurs only when the user experiences it, not when the developer/designer creates it. So, in my opinion, it's important to understand the need to differentiate first, and then take a shot at it.

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