Great Ideas Start Here

blog: a regularly updated web page, typically run by an individual or organization, containing relevant thoughts and ideas.
by: Christine Swartzendruber, Chief Technology Officer

These are The Five Planes of User Experience.  They are designed to provide a conceptual framework for talking about user experience problems and the tools we use to solve them.  Plane by plane the decisions we have to make become a little more specific and involve finer levels of detail.  These are essentially the tools that we use to design a website.

The Surface Plane
On the surface you see a series of Web pages, made up of images and text.  Some of these images are things you can click on, performing some sort of function such as taking you to a shopping cart.  Some of these images are just illustrations, such as a photograph of a book cover or the logo of the site itself. Our concern with The Surface Plane is the visual design, or the look of the finished product.

The Skeleton Plane
Beneath that surface is the skeleton of the site:  the placement of buttons, tabs, photos and blocks of text.  The skeleton is designed to optimize the arrangement of these elements for maximum effect and efficiency, so that you remember the logo and can find that shopping cart button when you need it.

Navigation design is a very important element in the plane.  The navigation of the site is the way that a user will move through the information architecture.

The Structure Plane
The skeleton is a concrete expression of the more abstract structure of the site.  The skeleton might define the placement of the interface elements on our checkout page;  the structure would define how users got to that page and where they could go when they were finished there.  The skeleton might define the arrangement of navigational items allowing the users to browse categories of books; the structure would define what those categories actually were.  Interaction design is a very important element is this plane. It is how the system will behave in response to the user.

The Scope Plane
The structure defines the way in which the various features and functions of the site fit together.  Just what those features and functions are constitutes the scope of the site.  Some sites that sell books offer a feature that enables users to save previously used addresses so they can be used again.  The question of whether that feature, or any feature is included on the site is a question of scope.

The Strategy Plane
The scope is fundamentally determined by the strategy of the site.  This strategy incorporates not only what the people running the site want to get out of it, but what the users want to get out of the site as well.  In the case of a site that sells books online for example, some of the strategic objectives are pretty obvious: Users want to buy books, and we want to sell them.  Other objective might not be so easy to articulate.