User Experience: A Research Agenda (Marc Hassenzahl & Noam Tractinsky)

In “User Experience: A Research Agenda” by Marc Hassenzahl & Noam Tractinsky, they explain user experience in the field of human computer interaction (HCI) and interaction design. The main objective was to collect a series of original, high-quality empirical papers on various (mainly positive) aspects that go beyond the purely cognitive and task-oriented aspects of user experience. 

Hassenzahl and Tractinsky argue that the term user experience (or UX) is associated with a wide variety of meanings, ranging from traditional usability to beauty, hedonic, affective or experiential aspects of technology use (Hassenzahl and Tractinsky 91). The paper is broken down into three main components, which explain how UX transcends instrumental configurations, is related to emotion and affect, and its experiencial outcomes. In its inception, HCI research focused almost exclusively on the achievement of behavioural goals in work settings. Moreover, thetask became the pivotal point of user-centred analysis and evaluation techniques (or usability testing). Beauty (or aesthetics) is an important quality aspect of technology, which clearly goes beyond the instrumental. It becomes important because of its intrinsic value, which echoes the fact that beauty satisfies a general human need and is an end rather than a means (Hassenzahl and Tractinsky 92). They note that in 2000, researchers Gaver and Martin argued for the importance of a whole range of specific non-instrumental needs, such as surprise, diversion, or intimacy, to be addressed by technology. Furthermore, Hassenzahl argued that future HCI must be concerned about the pragmatic aspects of interactive products as it relates to behavioral goals; as well as about hedonic aspect, such as stimulation in terms of personal growth in knowledge and skills; identification or self-expression and interaction with others; and evocation, which is self-maintenance and memories (Hassenzahl and Tractinsky 92). Next, they mention how current research emphasises the importance of the affective system for a wide range of central processes, such as human decision-making or subjective wellbeing. Generally, humans interacting with technology are depicted as having mostly negative emotions. In fact, focusing on positive emotional outcomes such as joy, fun and pride  is relatively new in UX research. Affective computing deals with mechanisms that detect and undo negative emotions – a substitute for human and social care and friendship, close to an automated version of anger management (Hassenzahl and Tractinsky 93). Research suggests that a single negative interaction can have a significant negative impact on an agent’s wellbeing, with no regard whether in fact the majority of interactions had been positive. Lastly, the experiential perspective on UX emphasizes two aspects of technology use: its situatedness and its temporality. In this view, an experience is a unique combination of various elements, such as the product and internal states of the user (mood, expectations, active goals), which extends over time with a definitive beginning and end (Hassenzahl and Tractinsky 94). In contrast to material outcomes, experiencial outcomes have a more positive impact on one’s wellbeing. For example, you would enjoy going to your favorite musician’s concert more than you would receiving a new watch.

This paper made several intriguing points. First, the fact that aesthetics play such a large role in satisfying a general human need and functions as an end rather than a means to an end. Since society places such an importance on aesthetics, it is a vital quality aspect of technology today. There is no surprise that HCI is typically associated with negative emotions, but the fact the field has shifted towards focusing on positive emotional outcomes such as joy and fun is clever. One example they gave was computerised toys that are capable of soothing a crying child or of perhaps artificially preventing strong feelings of loneliness, sadness, frustration, and a host of other strong, negative emotions (Hassenzahl and Tractinsky 94). Is it possible to design emotions? Perhaps, the most compelling question(s) can be derived from the experiencial perspective on UX. It makes sense that expeiencial outcomes have a more positive impact on wellbeing than material outcome. To extrapolate on this, humans have an innate desire to be connected with the outside world, so technology that compliments the positive wellbeing derived from leisure activities and adventure is inherently more valuable. An even more difficult question to answer is: Is it possible to design experiences? 

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