The Forces of User Experience

The Forces of User Experience - thumbnailJesse James Garrett’s “planes” diagram is a great tool for explaining user experiences. I have it on the wall of my cube and I use it all the time when giving informationals to people at Vanguard about UX. Its always bothered me a little though that because of its stacked single dimension it could be interpreted to mean that only the planes adjacent to one another have an influence on the ones around them (strategy influencing scope, scope influencing structure, etc).

I’ve been toying with it for a while, trying to show how the strategy plane (both the user and business aspects of it) acts as a force on all of the other planes and what tools and techniques can be used to explore those forces. So here it is, far from complete – offered up as a conversation starter. Oh, and Jesse – apologies for bastardizing your diagram with my brutal Illustrator skills.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

16 Responses to “The Forces of User Experience”

  1. 1 Grant Campbell June 18, 2007 at 2:26 pm


    Really interesting!

    Two things leap out at me, which may be old hat to the more experienced folks.

    First, I’m intrigued at the strategy bar, with the users on the left and the business concerns on the right. If I were to visualize this in 3D, I’d introduce a fold, right about the lightbulb position, and GENTLY fold the two halves back so that they CAUTIOUSLY approach each other from behind, creating more of a triangle than a flat surface.

    Second, and this is why I noticed the first, I’m struck by the distinction made on the far left between what users need and what they expect. Users could conceivably get something that’s perfect for the organizaton and for their needs, but if it’s not what they were expecting to find, there could be a problem. It strikes me that branding, particularly in interface design, has a huge impact on that. Branding could be a source of problems (this doesn’t make sense for the user or the material, but it’s consistent with what people expect to see in our products), or a solution (if we’re consistent with what they expect, they’ll be comfortable a lot sooner).

    Unless, of course, I’m mistaken over the whole concept of branding, in which case I’m sure someone will tell me. But that’s an example of how I see the diagram folding into 3 dimensions, so that the far left starts to enter into a relationship with the far right.



  2. 2 Peter Morville June 18, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    This is excellent. In many organizations, executives don’t know (or care) enough about the other “planes” to successfully define and manage their user experience strategy. This diagram provides a useful tool to start the conversation about the relationship between strategy and tactics. Also, it helpfully suggests that decisions made early in the process can have a big impact later (the ripple effect). Nice work Richard!

  3. 3 Victor Lombardi June 18, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Amen! I tried describing the interaction between strategy and the surface layer in this essay…

    Where the Rubber Hits the Road:
    Leveraging Strategic Delivery Points
    Closing the gap between product and service delivery and corporate
    strategic direction provides

    Click to access MIG_DeliveryPoints.pdf

    Having just come back from an event on business and design ( it feels like design folks know this intuitively but haven’t proved it out through research. And strategy folks usually think in terms of large organizations and so don’t focus on the rather smallish scale of a user interface, even if — as with Google’s home page — that interface can make or break a strategy.

  4. 4 Richard June 18, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    Victor – the gulf that exists between the strategy plane and all of the others (not just the surface) is one that I hadn’t actually thought of until I read your essay. There are always difficulties bridging the gaps between planes but IMHO the most challenging one to bridge is from strategy to everything else. Perhaps because its the divide between the “what” and the “how”?

  5. 5 magia3e June 28, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    This is good work Richard. I’ve even blogged about it!

    Is there some licensing around your design? Creative Commons? I’d like to show it around to the IA guys I work with 🙂


  6. 6 Richard June 29, 2007 at 7:49 am

    Thanks Matt – i’ve put it under creative commons – so feel free to share, use and modify it!

  7. 7 David July 23, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    One of the most powerful diagrams in Jesse’s book is the one on the ripple effect (page 26 in my copy). It shows how choices can influnce the path of a project. It would be cool to see how that plays out here. Do discoveries at certain stages force us back down the path of a project? I love this visualization to show where the forces push but a layer that shows how that effects the flow could be really helpful.


  8. 8 mantruc November 27, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Good job Richard! Very interesting turn to the Elements.


  9. 9 Adolfo June 23, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Thanks for this still holds water 2yrs later.

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