CHI Nederland

Jesse James Garrett

Brief interview with Jesse James Garrett
Wednesday 25 February 2008
Restaurant Dauphine - Amsterdam


Jesse James Garrett was in Amsterdam for a couple of days, and I had the pleasure of conducting a brief interview with him during a drink with some Adaptive Path members and local user experience professionals. Jesse is the founder of the well-know design company Adaptive Path and is known for his 2002 book “The Elements of User Experience”. Not only is he an important and visionary member of the user experience community, he is also famous for coining the term AJAX.

He was kind enough to answer a series of questions related to a quotation of his writings used in the description of this year’s conference with the theme “Change!”:

The key to creating successful products and services in a rapidly changing world is not resistance to unexpected change, but the flexibility to adapt to it. That flexibility must take a number of forms: flexible design processes to adapt to new insights into user behavior, flexible development processes to adapt to new technological opportunities, and flexible decision-making processes to adapt to new competitive and market realities.”

[preface to Subject to Change - creating great products and services for an uncertain world - O’Reilly 2008]


Liou Yamane (LY): How do you think user experience design (UxD) and human-computer interaction (HCI) have changed in time?

Jesse James Garrett (JJG): I think UxD is changing and will continue to change for a long time to come, probably longer than either our careers. What we have seen so far in UxD is almost the pre-history of the field. There is still much more potential in this field, especially how about to do this work more effectively.

LY: Do you know in which direction we need to look?

JJG: There is a lot more that we can learn from the social sciences about human behaviour. They have tools and models for understanding human behaviour that haven’t been integrated in our processes yet. In a lot of ways, UxD is applied social science.

LY: And you still feel we’re not using all methods available in other social sciences?

JJG: Yes, there is still a lot more that can still be done.

LY: How do you think we can change that?

: The biggest mistake a user experience (UX) designer can make right now is to think the people they have the most to learn from are other UX designers.

LY: We look too much at our peers?

JJG: There is much more we can learn about the work we do from people who do not do this work, than from people who do.
LY: When I think about the development process adapting itself to new technologies [as JJG mentions in the preface of Subject to Change], I get pretty excited about the last couple of years where we see things as gesture recognition, touch interfaces, and ubiquity finally starting to materialize in the form of the iPhone or Microsoft Surface for example. How do you think that will affect HCI and UxD?

JJG: In a lot of ways we are starting over with gesture and touch interfaces. A lot of the assumptions and therefore the conventions and best practices that we have, come from the mouse-pointer paradigm. Gesture and touch really introduce a different way of interacting with software.

LY: So you’re basically saying we are starting from scratch again?

JJG: Maybe not starting from scratch, but very nearly. At the very least, we have to question all of our assumptions to find out the best way to do things.

LY: Do you think that it’s a new field that we just have to discover, or that we can learn from other fields as well?

JJG: I think there is definitely something to learn from other fields. I think there are opportunities for us to look at all the ways in which gestures are used in the world. Gestures are a very human thing. Discovering how we can leverage that innate human behavior to make technology more effective is the fundamental challenge.

LY: Is this a current topic at Adaptive Path? Do you have any projects that relate to this?

JJG: We have done some work in this area, nothing I can go into very much, but we haven’t done as much work as we would like. I think that we are still looking for opportunities to push the boundaries of what can be done with gesture and touch. We have a lot of ideas though.

: I do remember the Aurora videos [a series of concept videos for a future web experience posted in August 2008], so that is something you actually put effort into.

: The video was designed to show off where technology could go in the future. The real test though is putting a real product out in the market and use it.

: Do you know any examples of how HCI and UxD have affected society in a positive way? And how do you think they will in the future?

: Examples are difficult. I believe our profession is intrinsically good.

LY: You mean morally good?

JJG: Yes, I do actually. As long as the focus is the user, than in what we do, we make people’s life better. And that is in a million tiny ways, in every little way that we can, contributing something good to the world.

LY: Is that also an explicit goal at Adaptive Path?

JJG: Yes, part of our mission statement is to improve people’s life through experience.

[from “Our mission is to deliver great experiences that improve people's lives, while sharing our advances in the field with our clients, partners, and peers […]”]

LY: How do you see the relationship between more creative, artistic fields, such as art, industrial design or game design, and HCI, which relies more on theory and models?

JJG: I think there are a lot of people who are in UxD who don’t consider themselves as such or don’t even know that this field exists. Last year I went to a big game developer conference to find out what they were talking about, because I see a lot of connections between the work that they do and that we do. And I saw one talk after another about topics fundamental to UxD, while nobody uses the term user experience. And I think this is part of what is happening to the field right now, that we are starting to recognize how very broad the application of these ideas is, how many areas of human life and creative endeavour are connected with the concept of UX.

LY: This is obviously a good thing, but what do you think of the fact it’s not known as UX? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

JJG: I think it’s both. It’s exciting to discover people who are working on similar problems from a different perspective. Those different perspectives enable us to enrich our own understanding and grow our own practice. But at the same time,
I went to that game conference trying to get somebody to speak at one of the Adaptive Path conferences. I couldn’t convince anybody to do that, because they couldn’t understand the connection. We were speaking different languages. I’m sure though that if a game designer were to come to a UX conference, they would see the overlap too and be excited about it.

LY: To conclude, this relates to what you said before: that we can learn a lot from different disciplines. Thank you very much for time.

JJG: Absolutely, no problem.