Slashdot links to an an interesting article at Technologizer about Clippy, the automated assistant that former was activated by default in Microsoft Office. Clippy was perhaps the Bill Callahan of technologies: everyone who knows anything about him has a strong opinion, and those opinions tend to be negative, but true strong points keep shining through.
I found the graphics and mock-ups (way back to the Windows 3.11 days) interesting, but what inspires this post is a throw-away line from the Slashdot summary:
Most folks think that Microsoft Office’s Clippy, Microsoft Bob, and Windows XP’s Search Assistant dog were perverse jokes â€” but a dozen years’ worth of patent filings shows that Microsoft took the concept of animated software ‘helpers’ really, really seriously, even long after everyone else realized it was a bad idea. And the drawings those patents contain are weirdly fascinating.”
The slashdot writer is guilty of the same dogmatism that he accuses Microsoft of.
Research into user experience (UX) is both a science and an art. It is a science to the extent it uses quantitative methods to estimate the behavior of a population. So, for instance, when Microsoft applies multivariate regression functions to anonymous user-experience data to determine the relative learning curves of potential changes among different personas of users, it is engaged into scientific UX research. Likewise, when Microsoft conducts ethnographies, case studies, and interviews to understand the phenomana embedded into its software (such as affective UX), it is engaged in an artform.
Both science and art go far beyond what “everyone else” realizes. Indeed, the explanation of variation (the science of UX research) and the understanding of experience (the art of UX research) exist to help make software better than if the designers were stuck with what “everyone else” knew.
Like anyone in the computer science community, I have strong opinions of Microsoft. Windows Vista is awful. Windows 7 is pretty good. I have a feeling that the quality difference between these products relies more than a little on one decision to shortchange UX research, and another to look at it seriously.
Extra credit: What aspect of UX research is ignored in this presentation? Which is focused on?