People naturally think of the world in terms of objects. As we evolved in real-world environments, we comprehended our physical experiences in relation to tangible objects. Thus, in our interaction with abstract virtual environments like websites, mobile apps and other software, we expect a similar experience. 

Object oriented UX (OOUX) is a set of principles that aims to make users’ digital experiences simple and intuitive. It is a process of planning a digital system modeled on the real-world user interactions. 

When people enter a physical store, they look up for aisle signs or section markers to find their way. They also hope to find objects by looking for other, related objects, for example, the vitamins are near the pharmacy, and the milk is near the cheese. These categorizations often depend on shared understandings and context.

In the digital world too, we expect certain wayfinding points in order to locate the places, products, services, and information we’re looking for. OOUX is the process of planning this system. Thoughtful OOUX can largely contribute to customer experience, making their ability to find what they need using digital tools frictionless and free of frustration.

What is Object-Oriented UX?

Object oriented UX is the process of planning a system of interacting objects and information within a digital product. OOUX helps to create a navigation that is circular and contextual by defining associations between things. It builds a “spiderweb” structure than a linear, tree-like navigation. 

The spiderweb framework is a form of information organization that defines the “things” (often nouns) which make up the digital system before creating information architecture or wireframes. It calls for delving into the users’ “mental models'' around objects and information. For example, do users believe that bananas are more similar to pineapples than to plantains and why so? OOUX asks us to question the uniqueness of a digital object, and to think about all aspects of an object before assigning an action to it (edit, manage, pay, compare, search). 

Moreover, OOUX promotes heterarchies over hierarchies. A heterarchy is a system of organization where elements are unranked, and therefore have the potential to be ranked in an infinite number of ways.

Why is Object-Oriented UX Important?

In the physical world, it is harder to hide poor inventory management and mess. If you walk into a clothing store and a sign for the trial room leads you in the wrong direction, you are likely to feel frustrated. But in the digital world, it is possible to conceal things like bad data, partially-loaded components, dead-end links, outdated visuals, and duplicate pages. This bad digital management, although invisible, leads to user frustrations.

The reason poor digital organization continues is because the main navigation serves as the escape hatch which can reset the entire experience and bring the user back to the starting point. 

OOUX can benefit businesses, customers and employees in digital tools and services by: 

  • Supporting internal team to make better decisions about the organization of information
  • Aligning objects and information with users’ already-established contextual associations, eliminating friction
  • Helping customers and employees find what they are looking for quickly, improving user experience
  • Encouraging customers to use navigation to explore content, and not as a way to reset their experience when they get lost
  • Serving to improve the digital “storefront”—giving the impression that products and services are of high quality

When to Use OOUX

Ideally, the OOUX process should be applied when a system is complex , and  has too many objects to form a linear hierarchy or has situational contexts of fluctuating nature. To apply OOUX, the system should have a flexible heterarchy that calls for:

•   Spiderwebs over tree branches

•   Circular and contextual design

•   Associations between things

Object-Oriented Design Approach

While OOUX can seem complicated, the process can be broken down into a few digestible steps. Consider the outline below to get started on using OOUX to group and organize objects and information. 

1. Extract Objects

Objects are the nouns that people talk about or need in order to use a product. There are different ways to collect nouns – from purpose statements, user stories and business goals. Nouns can also be discovered from user research, like interviews. By noticing how many times users refer to a noun in relation to a product gives insight into the users’ mental models. 

To identify nouns from users' stories, completing the following sentence 4-5 times in different use cases and scenarios can really help. 

As a ____________ (type of user), I want to __________ (specific goal) so that ___________ (specific reason).

Here is an example of finding nouns from a product’s mission statement. If the mission statement is “designing a platform that helps painters to source quality paint brushes from local vendors in their region”, the nouns here are “platform,” “painter,” “paint brush,” “vendors,” and “region.” These are the initial objects and give an idea about the core focus on the product. 

2. Define the Content for Each Object

In this step, we delve into what makes an object unique. What makes a paint brush, a paint brush? What gives a noun its “nounness”? What is the object’s key data and information? 

If we interact with painters about the object “paint brush”, we will uncover various details such as each paintbrush has a style and brush size for proper identification, and information about the material and the price of the paint brush is necessary to select the right one. This data 

informs us that for the object “paint brush”, core content is  “Style,” “Size,” “Material,” and “Price.'' For each object a similar process must be carried out. 

All main objects contain core content, metadata, and possibly other nested objects. As we speak with users, analyze research data, and speak to business stakeholders, we can build the objects more completely.

3. Cross-Link or Nest Objects and Create Associations

The best way to figure out if something should be nested is by asking the question, “does this object need a relationship with another object for context or can it exist on its own?”. This will help to create associations. 

When two objects are cross-linked or nested, it gives users the information that these two are unique objects but related to each other. With this association, users can understand the context intuitively, regardless of their entry point or the path they travel.  

4. Add Actions/Verbs to Each Object

Next we must ensure that a system is actionable. To uncover actions, we can analyze the business goals and requirements. The product mission statement of our example tells us that the goal is to help painters buy brushes from local vendors. So we know it's needed to review the ratings of vendors. 

To find more actions, we can use data from user research. If a number of painters express the wish to automatically repeat purchases from particular farms, that is another action. Some actions for this example can be: 

  • Check availability of brushes with a vendor
  • Locate a vendor
  • Bundle many brushes for a bulk discount
  • Find a brush pouch
  • Find a vendor
  • Favorite a vendor
  • Buy the brushes

5. Prioritize Object Modules, Keep Them Centralized

Now there is an inventory of objects in place which acts as a site map. It's a central reference point for researchers, designers and developers to understand the system. When any object is changed, everyone is aware of it. At this point, it's also required to prioritize which objects are most important and need to be designed first. Obiect maps act as the centralized source of requirements and can easily be translated into wireframes. 

6. Design, Build, Deploy, Test, Iterate, Add, Subtract, Repeat

The final step is an ongoing one in which we get feedback from real users about what's working and what's not and iterate the design according to it. We may need to add more objects and core content or eliminate some. The process never ends and evolves over time as real users continue to interact with the system. 

ORCA: The Triple Diamond Method

ORCA stands for Objects, Relationships, Calls to Action and Attributes. It's a term that every UX designer who deals with complex problems should know. The ORCA process began emerging from OOUX’s object mapping process.

An object map is a very powerful process to scan into the structure of a digital product and is an important part of the ORCA process, although there is so much more to OOUX. ORCA is a 15-Step iterative process that helps to synthesize research into naturally intuitive UX.

The ORCA design process is also lenient, forgiving, scalable and flexible. It’s a strategy where it is incredibly adaptable. Sophia Prater introduced this concept of ORCA into OOUX and has been conducting workshops on the same.

The Four Pillars of ORCA

If OOUX is a philosophy and a set of principles that guide the digital transformation , then ORCA is the how. The ORCA process consists of four iterative rounds which tackles the four pillars. 

Pillar One: Objects

Objects are of high value since they make up the user’s mental model and the business model of the connected people, places and things. Objects are the anchors for understanding the complexity in the digital product.

Pillar Two: Relationships

Similar to pillar one, Relationships help you with the anchor of understanding. It's important to understand each object in the context of the other objects in the system, and figure out how they relate to each other. The main goal is to communicate these relationships to your user, it helps define objects as they pave the navigation paths.

Pillar Three: Calls to Action

The affordances of your object are the calls to action. The actions that each object “call” various user roles to do, every action that a user does in a digital product is the call to action. The main goal is to clearly connect the objects and their associated actions or CTAs.

Pillar Four: Attributes:

The fourth pillar is all about the detailed structure of the objects. The content elements come together to define the shape of your objects and defining the elements is the main goal of this pillar. The sort of metadata needed for the users to sort and filter through lists of the objects is an example.

Object-Oriented User Experience In Programming

OOUX enables researchers and designers to better communicate with developers. The artifacts created during the process are documentation of relationship maps, names of modules, and definitions of an object. This allows the developer to better see the intent, and understand the product that is being built. They won’t have to abstract and work backwards from flat visuals.

We often design “verbs'' first without realizing it, which is like designing a task flow or a pure user story. When thinking “a user needs to pay a bill” or “a user needs to edit their contact information”, pay and edit are verbs. They become the focus of these tasks for which we design a clear path. 

The problem here is that we deprioritize the experiences when users go “off-path”. By assuming that the tasks are linear, we forget the associations of it. If instead, we look at the bill itself, we will see that many actions can be taken on a bill. A user can “pay it”, “dispute it,” “compare it,” “download it,” and so on. We may miss out on these natural actions when focusing on the verb instead of the object.

By designing one flow at a time without mapping out the entire product offering at the beginning of the project creates a possibility of overlooking certain opportunities or places to seed content. Then, as new features get introduced to the product, the designers need to shoehorn things into existing interactions and screens. By designing around “objects” rather than pages, we can break down barriers that we needlessly put in front of our users in their search for information. What must “contact information” contain? What must a “bill” contain? Are all elements within those things unique, or are they needed in many parts of the experience?

Applying Object-Oriented UX in Design Thinking

In OOUX, we are more interested in the objects in the system. We ask questions like what are the object’s properties, do multiple objects share the same properties, do they have unique content, should one object be connected to another and so on. 

Imagine if you owned a bike, car, smartphone and headphones. Add to that scenario the fact that you must provide for your kid and your pet. These are the objects in your life. If people were to think about action first, they would have to say something like, 

Today I want to drive” - and then, based on that action, they would be presented with a menu of objects which can be driven: the bike, the car.

Today I want to clean” - menu of objects: bike, vacuum.

Today I want to recharge” - menu of objects: vacuum, headphones.

This method of organization creates redundancies in your objects. It’s a slow system that requires you to recall any object you may own which may fit the need for an action.

But, if there were a shift to the frame of thinking to move from actions to objects, the organization and association between the objects become easily understandable. I have a vacuum cleaner. It helps me with my cleaning and I need to charge it before using it. I only need to reference the vacuum cleaner once to view all of its potential actions and see all of its content.

Because there are so many objects in life, and all of them are important, it’s hard to force a hierarchy. It would be hard for anyone to decide which of these objects in life has the highest priority. Object-oriented UX helps us to allow for this kind of situational prioritization. It offers flexibility in organization. It assumes that our relationship with objects are not static, and helps us to better suggest next steps to our users.

Conclusion

In OOUX, we are asked to question the uniqueness of a digital object and to consider all aspects of it before assigning an action (edit, manage, pay, compare, search). OOUX is critical to businesses, customers, and employees in the digital tools and services domain because it facilitates better organizational decisions within your organization and aligns objects and information with the user's already-established contextual associations. The result is less friction for customers and employees. This improves the user experience and encourages customers to use navigation when exploring content, not as a way to reset their experience if they get lost. Enhancing the digital "storefront"—giving customers the impression that your products and services are of high quality. In complex systems, with too many objects to form a linear hierarchy, or with situational contexts that change frequently, the OOUX process should be used. 

FAQ

  1. 1. What is the philosophy behind object oriented UX?

The underlying philosophy behind object oriented UX is to inspire designers to treat objects as the core content of designs and actions as secondary. It argues that as humans we perceive the real world environment in terms of objects, hence maintaining the same concept in product design will lead to a user experience that aligns better with users’ mental models. 

  1. 2. What are the benefits of object oriented UX?

There are several benefits to the OOUX approach. Notable among them are that it is more user-centered, system- agnostic, consistent, scalable, and efficient. 

  1. 3. Who is the founder of object oriented UX? 

The term object oriented UX was coined by Sophia Voychehovski Prater in 2015 though the philosophy has been in use since the 70s. 

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