Not everyone in a setting is an active participant in the activity a person is trying to complete. However, non-user actors are still an essential part of experience design scenes — Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory values participant and non-participant actors as integral parts of a context. The theory, while somewhat embattled, is a useful tool for examining how all the actors in a context relate and can affect one another. For example, when a person uses their phone while walking down a sidewalk in a city, their attention is dedicated to the content on the phone. The interaction involves the person (user), the phone, and the content on the phone. However, trees with low-hanging branches could affect their experience. A child walking a Weimaraner puppy could distract our user from their phone use. Uneven pavement could cause the user to trip or at least become more focused on their steps than phone usage. The Non-User Actors aspect highlights the role of external actors and gives them agency in the experience design scene.
Researching Non-User Actors
When designers research non-user actors, they account for external factors that can impact a person’s activities in an experience design scene. It also gives agency to non-user actors like people, plants, animals, and other living things that can designers often neglect when they are focused intently on the activity they are designing. This research helps designers account for actors in a scene that could positively or negatively affect a person’s experience. It also reminds designers that the things we create can impact the natural environment and non-human actors in profound ways.
Questions to Ask About Non-User Actors
- Who and what is involved in this scene?
- What actors are often forgotten?
- When a person completes an activity, what “gets in their way” or can distract?
- What people, plants, animals, and objects have we not accounted for in the scene we are exploring?
Look for These When Researching Non-User Actors
- Things that “get in the way”
- Objects that are walked on, moved and manipulated that aren’t part of a user’s primary activities