The Elements of User Experience

In some ways, Jesse James Garrett introduced me into the (official) world of User Experience. His book, the Elements of User Experience, was the first work on UX that I read. As such, I appreciated the simple, clear and relatable language that Garrett used to introduce newbies like me to the UX world.

Garrett described user experience as “the experience the product creates for the people who use it in the real world.” Sometimes we have great experiences with products (I’m looking at you, nostalgic Timehop), other times the experience is frustrating (like anytime I try to navigate Netflix on my tv). Our jobs as designers are to make that experience one of joy, delight and ease.

While there are many things that Garrett’s book helped me understand better, I’ll share with you my top highlights:

  • The Five Planes

Garrett describes the five planes as layers that build upon one another and influence how a site looks and behaves. His five planes are: Surface, Skeleton, Structure, Scope and Strategy. What I loved about this is how it broke down a site into the many, many different facets, from abstract (strategy) to concrete (surface). Garrett emphasized the importance of each plane’s dependence on the other. For example, if you miss getting the strategy right, it will affect the scope.

  • The Plane Approach

While each plane is dependent on one another, that doesn’t mean that you have to finish each plane before you can start work on the next section. That could lead to frustration for everyone involved. Instead, Garrett provided a straight-forward, great piece of advice to keep in mind: “have work on each plane finish before work on the next can finish.” I appreciated this clarification because I have been a part of teams before that have tried to finish one plane before starting another. It did lead to frustration- both from the team and our users. Had we taken Garrett’s advice, perhaps we would have all been better off.

  • “Understand the consequences of your solution to the problem.”

This was one of the most influential statements that Garrett made and I hope that it’s one I will always keep top of mind. Sometimes we can be so focused on fixing the problem that we don’t take a step back to consider how that solution could possibly cause a ripple effect throughout the design. It takes your team thinking about each plane to avoid this. Garrett provided this helpful diagram to show what this might look like:

“If you approach your product development process with the complete user experience in mind, you can come out of it with a product that’s an asset, not a liability.” Yes, Mr. Garrett. Yes indeed.