Researching User Experience From A Holistic Knowledge Perspective

As a newcomer to the field of user experience (UX), I wanted to find out whether UX practice is related to my usual zone, which is information and knowledge management: the people side of it, but not so much the technical side. You will usually find me researching how people use information and knowledge as resources to fulfil any number of goals, such as learning something new, providing a service or solving a problem. Whether that information or knowledge is found on the web, in the mailbox, on the television or in the heads of the everyday philosophers at the local cafe, the focus is always on people as users, and specific groups of people as users of information and knowledge from a wide range of channels both online and offline. It didn’t take me long to realise that UX is what I have been doing all along, I just never called it UX! A nice discovery, if you ask me.

In my current research, I focus on the user experiences of a group of new university lecturers in a range of disciplines who also practice in a variety of industries such as business management and marketing, health and nutrition, psychology, education and entertainment. All of these people were learning how to be academics and how to progress their careers after spending considerable amounts of time as practitioners. I focus on exploring what informed their learning and professional development and how it informed their learning.

After a series of interviews and qualitative data analysis, it was found that what is primarily informing their learning activities is knowledge from a range of people in their professional and personal networks such as mentors, colleagues (industry and academic), family, friends and even inspirational figures they have never met. Five types of knowledge emerged from the data: experiential, technical, personal, disciplinary and interdisciplinary. Knowledge from informal interaction was also found to be key to meaningful learning experiences. Information was discussed as useful but only as secondary to knowledge. Information means textual resources (articles, books, websites, emails) and the tools to receive these (software, hardware, mobile devices etc). Contextual information such as culture (organisational or community) and work/society environments also potentially informed users’ experiences. Once a person interacts with or uses these forms of information, they can become knowledge inside one’s head.

Relationships between people (in particular, reciprocal relationships based on trust and empathy) can be viewed as complex knowledge contexts, where knowledge is created from relating to information. By asking how particular forms of knowledge from people informed learning and development, we begin to see processes associated with the experiences of knowing oneself, knowing other people and recognising multiple layers of relationships. Processes involved in knowledge user experience include:

1) Knowing Self by identifying, testing, feeling, discovering, reflecting on and offering knowledge of oneself;

2) Knowing Others by accessing, monitoring, aligning, seeking, applying and sharing knowledge of other people; and

3) Recognizing Multiple Layers of Relationships by selecting communication modes, exploring personal dimensions, navigating across boundaries, balancing roles and changing over time.

At first glance, it seems that the current generation of UX practice is geared towards users’ experiences of information (texts and tools) and also context (culture and environment), as in the case of service design, for example. If information is only secondary to knowledge in terms of usefulness to achieve a particular goal or purpose, this finding suggests that the UX field could advance by looking beyond interacting with information and towards a more holistic view that encompasses both information and knowledge user experiences. A key question here would be:

How do we create a user experience that facilitates tapping into the different forms of knowledge found within people’s heads?

Thinking about people as users of knowledge, rather than users of information opens up a whole new terrain of potential design, thus moving from information user experience to knowledge user experience.

At the heart of people’s user experience is the concept of the human relationship, the processes of informing our relationships through knowledge and strengthening our social networks to achieve one’s life purpose. Relationships are not just between the interface of human-to-computer/website but also, more importantly for knowledge user experience, human-to-human interaction, whether that interaction occurs online or offline.


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