By: Ivan McClellan

Date: October 3, 2014

Creating effective digital experiences is rapidly becoming more complex. The frequency, devices, and environments which users engage digitally are remarkably diverse and with the onset of wearables and the internet of things our jobs as designers are becoming boundlessly complex. Creating interactions that are logical, scalable, and usable is essential for success, but it’s increasingly critical to refine our empathetic skills to consider the users emotional state, motivations, and reactions to stimuli.

Like most UX specialists my background has seemingly little to do with my current occupation. I hail from the hard-scrabbled town of Kansas City (Kansas). I was raised by a single mother in an affordable housing complex with my sister and grandmother. Though our finances and environment were poor my mother instilled a rich curiosity and creativity that I have kept my entire life. After graduating high school, I moved to New York City and attended an acting conservatory to train as a thespian. I dove head first into the discipline and spent six years performing and learning method acting. This led to the study of cognitive behavior heuristics to better understand how people innately solve problems and intuitively react to situations, which eventually makes my transition to user experience and interaction design rather natural.

“Generality is the enemy of all art”

Actors are masters of empathy. When playing a character who is vastly different from yourself, it is imperative that you find a way to get in their shoes. The character Stanley in the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire is a despicable drunk and violent southerner who makes extremely illogical choices throughout the play. In Act 5 of the play Stanley has his famous “STELLA!” scene. His wife has left him and is staying at her sisters house. Stanley stands outside of the window screaming (“with heaven-splitting violence”) STELLAHHHH! I am a generally level headed guy, so performing this action truthfully is unnatural to me. The actor must empathize with the character to portray a real human as oppose to a flat caricature. You must intimately know the history, environment, relationships, mannerisms, situation, and personality of the character. If executed well, with empathy for the character, the results are captivating magic!

Here is the big question: How can we as UX practitioners learn to think and act like our users?

The answer: go to your user and observe them. You should already have extensive data about the market and consumer analysis. You may also have ethnographic and psychographic research to better predict the users societal behavior. You must get face to face with them to understand their experience, speak their language and empathize with their needs. Often when I assume I know the user group I am designing for, I’m completely wrong, especially when the users have a highly-specialized occupation such as medical practitioners and law enforcement. It is essential that you take your concept directly to the audience that will use it.

Annex - Brando, Marlon (A Streetcar Named Desire)_NRFPT_01

After taking your concept directly to the user, break down the story of the interaction into actionable sections. Write out your user flows as a script, creating actions for each step throughout the interface. Do this for each different character(persona type). To act literally means, “To Do”, it is imperative that you have something to do or you stop acting. Action is a physical pursuance of a specific goal. An action must:

Be capable of being done
An action must be capable of being done. “Begging for money,” is something you can do right now. However, “Pursuing the American dream” is neither an action that can be performed on stage or on the spur of a moment. When creating actions in the story that is your interface, “Delivering an important message” is possible while, “Delighting the user” is not.

Be specific
Stanislavsky said, “Generality is the enemy of all art.” If your action is general then the entire experience will be general, disconnected and boring. Extracting critical answers will bring you to life much more than simply finding out something. Give users a clear, specific path to follow.

Have a cap
The cap is the accomplishment of the specific thing you were looking for. You must be able to tell whether or not you have finished your action. “To beg for forgiveness” has a cap because you can tell when you’ve finished by the behavior of your partner. “Maintaining someones interest” does not have a cap and can not be completed. Users may not achieve the specific action but you must set an intended end to their task.

Be fun to do
An action should be something that you want to do. The more vital, active, and gutsy your action is the more likely you are to perform it with excitement. How much more fun is it to convince a friend to spill the beans, than passively receive the same information? What gets your users aroused? That is what your action should be.

As designers we are always trying to predict what users want, so we can create interfaces that are intuitive and lead to a positive end experience. Including method acting techniques in your designs will help you make more accurate assumptions and create compelling designs.

Break a Leg!