User experience vs. the user's experience
When we speak of user experience most people think of human-machine interaction. In fact Wikipedia's second sentence on the subject is:
"User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership."
UX however has been around way longer than computers have been and its goal is not only to enhance the human-machine interaction but, as Nielsen and Norman state:
"User experience" encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products."
One reason why it might be associated so strongly as a discipline in the creation of human-machine interaction is because its results are most visible here as the initial barrier is so high. These days most humans will need to acquire far more knowledge to interact with an application than with a tea kettle. One reason being because they did not grow up with the technology and spent their childhood learning by watching elders interact with an application, making the system more alien. Another reason however is that interaction with an application can be far more complex than with a tea kettle.
But, is there user experience in the use of a tea kettle?
I think Ali Rushdan Tariq's blog post on the history of user experience
illustrates quite nicely what user experience is, where ist has it's emphasis and why it is mostly associated with the human-machine interaction:
"As technology and the internet continue to weave themselves into our lives, we can expect to see UX continue to evolve."
It is not that user experience hasn't been around but that it has been invisible to us, as we simply have not talked about it (or even named it up until 1995) because of it's vagueness and for lack of a better word "softness". Even though there is an official standard (ISO 9241-210, ) for user experience design, the description of the standard is packed with fuzziness that cannot be measured with standard analytics tools.
"According to the ISO definition, user experience includes all the users' emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviors and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use."
The standard was created as guidance for human-machine interaction but it's definition can clearly be applied to the use of anyTHING or service for that matter, which also includes the use of a tea kettle. So to answer the initial question: yes, there is user experience in the use of a tea kettle
The problem however is: how do we measure "emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviors and accomplishments"? For starters that list is pretty long as well as divers. Secondly, how do you measure beliefs or emotions? You will definitely not be able to export those believes and emotions into spreadsheets, apply a formula to it and receive a number between 0 and 100. Humans themselves are too divers, have very different backgrounds, which would always have to be taken into consideration, when applying mathematics to their behavior.
The result of great user experience however is definitely visible in the shape of happy customers that love and recommend your service or product and this is something every great and passionate business has been trying to achieve since the beginning of commerce.
As I am interested in finding out more about what makes customers happy, I have decided to start a small series on the subject. A recent visit to a Los Angeles ramen restaurant rekindled my interest for great or interesting user experience outside of human-machine scenarios, which is why I have decided to gather these examples in blog posts. Keep your eyes open for the tag #myexperience.