What do you do when you enter a hotel room for the first time? You find the card key slot to switch on the lights, then get inside, place your bag, and do a quick scan of the room to see what’s where. What you don’t do is jump right into the shower or immediately go to bed, right?

Now, let’s say you enter a hotel room that has a Murphy bed neatly concealed between cupboards. Imagine entering a hotel room only to find a big, empty space where a bed ought to be – wouldn’t that be slightly disorienting?

This is precisely what happens when software applications don’t prioritize the objects the users are actually looking for. It’s what causes confusion and frustration in users. It goes without saying that users come to an app with a fixed objective in mind, therefore, it makes sense to design the product based on fulfilling those objectives.

What is Object-oriented UX?

Object-oriented UX

Object-oriented UX (OOUX) is a method for structuring a space that emphasizes the objects – the things people interact with. It is a design method based on information architecture that is aimed at helping designers organize things in a manner that naturally matches up with the users’ mental models. It prioritizes the objects, and consequently, simplifies an app’s creation and design as well as its experience.

Circling back to the example of when you first enter a hotel room, you get your bearings on the things laid out in front of your eyes, followed by deciding what you want to do with those things.

OOUX in its most basic form is an ‘objects-first’ approach to designing.

Why consider the OOUX process?

Why consider the OOUX process?

Over time, humans have evolved in an environment surrounded by tangible objects (nouns) – mom and dad, food, toys, books, bed, followed by school, desks, playground, friends, and so on. It’s no surprise that humans are naturally adapted to comprehending tangible objects and how they relate to them.

However, things change rapidly when these very humans are placed in a relatively abstract environment, such as a virtual one. Therefore, when a virtual environment is designed in a way that intuitively mimics the user’s real mental model, it ensures a level of comfort.

Child psychology provides great insights into how our basic communication and understanding of any new system is based entirely on the objects within it. A child’s first attempt at understanding the system around them begins with identifying objects such as their caregiver person, bottle, and their crib. There is enough evidence to support how this habit of identifying objects is also how adult humans learn to understand any new system.

Sophia Prater, Chief Evangelist for OOUX and Certified OOUXer in her article, The Object-oriented User, quoted renowned child psychologist, Jean Piaget, who stated that before children can understand procedures, they must lay some object-oriented groundwork. Jennifer Groh, professor of Neuropsychology at Duke University, postulated in her book Making Space that “nine-tenths of brain power is spent figuring out what and where things are.”

Object-oriented UX design

Object-oriented UX design

The bulk of our brain’s processing ability is focused on categorizing details gathered by our senses of sight, touch, and hearing into our perceptual reality. Our brains look out for physical objects, find the ones we like to use, and then try to look for similar objects in any new environment we enter into. We seek continuity and proximity and convert all of that information into objects and build relationships between them.

The UX design process advocates the belief that for any process to be understandable, it has to be built atop an established mental model. For instance, a person looking to play tennis has to first learn to hit the ball using the racquet before learning about the points system. While this is rather obvious, think back to the times when you’ve just opened a new app for the first time and it asked you to sign up before you went any further. What was the immediate feeling you experienced? Taken aback? Discomfort? Mistrust? Turn off? Well, it is natural to feel confused when asked to jump head-first into navigating tasks without having a firm grasp on the objects that underpin those tasks.

How does OOUX work?

How does OOUX work?

OOUX isn’t really new, it has been around since the 1990s when it was known as ‘modular design’. Ever since, it has since evolved, expanded, and been renamed the ORCA process created by Sophia Prater, which maps out the entire OOUX framework.

Note that the OOUX is most useful for complex experiences which have many interrelated instances of things/objects. Specifically, data that has:

  • structure,
  • instances,
  • purpose.

For instance, the digital healthcare ecosystem with multiple users (providers, patients, carers, pharmacists, insurance providers) using a multi-layered system to book appointments, create medicine subscriptions, upload and access health reports, manage insurance plans, and more.

The OOUX is built around the ORCA process –

  • Objects — the tangible things in a user’s mental model of the system.
  • Relationships — how and when objects interconnect and nest.
  • Calls-to-Action — the actions a user can take with an Object.
  • Attributes — the content/metadata which builds Object instances.

We shall be exploring the OOUX design process in detail in a later blog, but it is important for design practitioners to understand that object-oriented UX can be applied to designing a range of digital experiences. However, its application is more suitable for more complex systems – such as enterprise applications where it’s crucial for objects to be represented consistently across different touchpoints. We will dig deeper into using the OOUX process to enhance usability by aligning with user expectations, reducing accidental complexity due to extraneous design elements, and building and maintaining the product without disturbing its structural integrity.