In our contemporary era of archaeology, methods and theories that were once considered specialized into a subfield of digital archaeology have now become common practice. Technology such as databases and geographic information systems are already integrated into many archaeological project designs, and researchers are using the internet to gather data and form online discussion groups. Museums incorporate virtual reality into their exhibits, and resource management work can be completed without paper, on a tablet.
With the rapid pace of change in the field, how can we examine standards and provide multivocal interpretations? The field of User Experience or UX presents an iterative methodology that can be useful for archaeologists and heritage professionals in developing interactive ways of sharing their interpretations.
What is User Experience?
User Experience refers to the total experience of designing a system to solve user needs. It studies the experience people have when interacting with a product at all stages of its development (using, fixing, upgrading etc.). Some of the primary questions involved in UX research include assessments of product value, usability, adoptability, and desirability.
User experience is commonly used as a synonym for usability research, however, it encompasses a more holistic perspective. Usability, according to Jacob Nielsen, is a multi-component concept. Nielsen breaks down usability into five attributes: Learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors, and satisfaction (Nielsen 2010). Nielsen stresses the importance of clarifying these measurable aspects of usability, rather than aiming to broadly define what may be deemed “user-friendly.”
UX research methods resemble anthropological research methods (in fact, many anthropologists have found their niche working in UX). The key difference in approach is that the goal of research for UX is directed at improving a bounded system through iterative research design, versus gathering describing a more open cultural context.
How does UX fit into archaeology?
This is an important perspective for archaeologists who are concerned with public outreach and interpretation. Digital systems such a websites and social media are becoming one of the essential forms of public engagement.
Design philosophies such as UX are important for an archaeologist to consider because, for many archaeologists, coding and web development is not our specialty. There are services like WordPress and Squarespace that make simple websites a possibility for public interaction without the need for extensive design experience. Applying UX methods allows archaeologists to provide a multivocal platform for inclusion for all of their audiences by considering questions such as:
- Who is going to be using our website?
- What sort of systems are our users already comfortable interacting with that we could apply?
- What expectations do our users have for content?
- What constraints do we have in terms of budget, data restrictions, copyright, etc…
How do I start?
UX has many methods to choose from, ranging from simple survey to in-depth usability testing. Contextual queries, combined with usability design principles are a great place to start for archaeologists and heritage professionals who are looking to create more dynamic and engaging online spaces, fieldwork products, or even to improve workplace culture of your CRM firm.