Brain on Ux(s)

The rise of the UX has brought a new vision on all human-centric studies. But the main question stays: What is an experience? How do I define it? How do I trigger it? And how this definition will frame and nourish the work as an innovator? As always when I ask myself these stupid questions, I refer to the only foundation I know: hypothesis about our brain and our behavior.

So let’s start from the beginning. If The brain is an electrical machine therefore brain cells could form a massive network of cables and antennas that allows electricity to flow through the brain. This electrical system continuously evolve and change when confronted with physical and social environments. Which means that, through our sensory organs, environmental stimuli provide the electricity needed to put our neuronal and glial networks at works and activate learning mechanisms. And as life and experience are different from anyone, every brain’s electrical network is shaped differently from our neighbors. Electricity from a simple and common stimulus will not necessarly take the same “pathway” in me than in yours. The unique connectivity in our neural networks are our cognitive DNA and is a core concept in subjectivity theories.

If we stay on the electrical cables analogy, by a propagation effect, every inch of a stimulus will trigger electrical waves through the brain areas. Environments are multi-sensory, so in the same timeline, you receive pieces of information from different senses (sound, touch, sight etc.). These stimuli are processed in parallel streams that will be integrated at a different point in the brain. All of this for what? In order for you to make the most adapted decision in a very short amount of time. This means that, by a simple conduction effect, our brain is simply linking and connecting things together in order for its environment to « make sense for us ». This hypothesis gives rise to the classic and deep « everything is somehow connected ».

So we could have the first definition here, experience as senses.

But environments are dynamic, they continuously move, change, transforms and evolve. Environments are cause and effect dependent. The elements that were connected 5 lines ago are not anymore. Why? Because someone took them, or the wind switched them, or the sun hid the important part, or I’m not there anymore etc. As I said earlier, the brain needs to connect everything with everything, it needs to be in an environment where everything makes a subjective sense. This « disconnection » leads to questions. “ How is this? Why? I do not understand? Are you Sure?” These are the example of questions you asked yourself when things do not fit together in your mind. These questions are the foundation of motivation and actions processes. As we cannot always wait for things to connect by themselves or create mental bonds between them. Most of the time we need to physically connect them or put them closer to enrich sensorial information. So we make them connect by changing, recycling, connecting environmental elements through our actions. This dis-connection effect will later, in more a specific mechanism, leads to the emergence of sensations and feelings (which is not today’s focus). By tempting to balance an environment and suit it to our logic, we act on it and change our surroundings.

And this is our second definition: experience as interaction.

But, let’s not forget that the main purpose of the brain is to learn in order to adapt. « I need to learn from the result of my actions in order to quickly adapt to future similar environments ». We will record these cause and effect mechanisms and the set of actions linked to them in order to recall them or a modified version of them when needed. The classic « test and learn » protocol stays the foundation of every experimentation process. In the end, these Experiences are stored throughout the cortex in the form of continuous electrical activations and modulations of our cells networks. Experiences are educational by definition.

And this is our third definition: experience as a memory.

Every UX approach must take into account at least these 3 definitions that can be raised in 3 simple questions : What do I want my Use to sense? What do I want my User to do? And what do I want my User to store ? and this why UX(s) is a probably a more accurate « word »….

Guillaume Dechambenoit



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Guillaume Dechambenoit

Thinker, teacher and consultant specialized in applied cognitive science and organizational design