Some experience design factors have more “weight” than others in different settings. People perceive that one factor is a scene is more important than others. This weight creates hierarchy in a scene—where more noticeable factors get more attention or override other factors. For example, a beautiful sunrise can get so much attention that drivers can take their eyes off of morning traffic in front of them. A screaming child in a restaurant can override the quiet, romantic setting in a nice restaurant. A large banner image that spans a webpage can grab a user’s attention—causing them to read an advertisement for shaving cream. A global ad campaign can demand a significant amount of copywriting, design, and client management and in turn can dominate a design agency’s resources to produce and maintain, taking resources away from other client work. Factors of an experience design scene have an order. Those factors that get more attention and resources increase in hierarchy, and other factors decrease.

Examples of Hierarchy

  • The cicada screeching is distracting
  • A car wreck has drawn all drivers’ attention
  • The ice cream truck has every child’s attention on the playground
  • Cinderella Castle is the centerpiece of Magic Kingdom Park
  • A noisy air vent makes it hard for office workers to concentrate

Researching Hierarchy

Researching hierarchy helps designers discover what factors are most “important” in a setting—the dominant factors that affect how people, resources, interconnections, and other factors behave. In a setting like Texas in the summer where water is scarce, water conservation and efficient use can dominate people’s thinking. These conditions can cause people to behave differently (installing water use-reducing technologies) and can spawn new policies and laws (lawn watering restrictions). When designers implement products, services, and systems into settings, the hierarchy in a setting should inform how to design outcomes. Some outcomes are designed to work in harmony with an existing hierarchy because it cannot be changed. Other outcomes may even be designed to rearrange hierarchy—upending the existing scene. When researching hierarchy, designers explore relationships between factors to understand arrangements better and how designed outcomes may be implemented to work within parameters.

Questions to Ask

  • What is the arrangement of factors in this setting?
  • What is most important that gets the most attention?
  • What is using the most resources in this setting?
  • What are the existing outcomes designed to “overcome” in the setting?
  • What are the least mentioned or noticed factors in the setting?
  • Who or what is maintaining this hierarchy, and why?

Look For…

  • The biggest or smallest concerns in the setting
  • The most imposing or least imposing natural or artificial elements
  • Organization charts that show hierarchy
  • What is getting most people’s attention in a setting



Updated: June 18, 2024 9:51 am
man viewing fireworks in a city from the roof
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