As a rule, any podcast that makes me sit through 1 minute, 40 seconds of fluff (idents, sponsors, etc.) before getting to the content is going to get knocked off my subscription list pretty darn quickly. IT Conversations keeps managing to hang around, though, thanks to some quite good content. (Also, I do have a fast-forward button.) One particularly tasty recent entry is a talk by Sara Ulius-Sabel of Whirlpool, on introducing experience design to the process of developing washing machines.

“User Experience” can be a pretty hazy term, as it’s easy to get it mixed up with all the different disciplines that it touches: brand management, interface design, etc. Hearing about how Whirlpool is shifting its development process from a focus on features to a focus on users really helps to clear things up. It probably helps that washing machines are physical products rather than software, which means it’s easier to make a clear distinction between the user interface and the other moments of engagement that make up the overall experience.

Ulius-Sabel’s talk helps to solidify my hazy understanding of what user experience design is: it’s not so much about a specific set of practices as it is about a set of perspectives, about giving priority to the user’s needs and desires, rather than how many features you can list on the back of the box. It’s not about the product itself, but who you’re making it for.

(Also: “Useful, usable, desirable” is my new favorite mantra, and I’m going to repeat it to myself whenever I get bogged down in intractable debates about minor gameplay mechanics at work. Ommm.)