Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of my favorite books. Over the years, I have thought and written about it from various angles. The imaginative children’s adventure tale (technically not a “fairy-tale” since Alice wakes up making the whole thing a dream), the satirical portrayal of victorian society and the sinister, secret world of Lewis Carroll’s perhaps unwholesome fascination with Alice Liddell are some of the themes which drew me to the book. As I make my own way down the rabbit hole of ITP, I want to take a fresh look at the adventure through the lens of user experience.
Since the moment of entering the unfamiliar world of Wonderland, Alice relies on clues from the environment to find her way. The guidance she receives is for the most part, confusing and misleading, resulting in many errors and frustrations. Miscommunication is one of Lewis Carroll’s favorite themes as he purposefully plays with nonsensical language and situations.
Many misunderstandings arise because characters native to Wonderland take the rules of their world for granted and don’t structure their advice in a way that’s comprehensive to an outsider. Bad user experiences often suffer from the same lack of “new user” awareness.
In the real world of user experience, bad labeling could set the user on a wild goose chase that ends without accomplishment of their goal. The bottle labels in the first room Alice enters are a good example. Unclear, mischievous instructions prevent Alice from entering the beautiful garden right away. Or perhaps this design was cleverer than I describe it, since it sent her on an entertaining adventure around Wonderland.
If you picture Wonderland as a traditional museum, the rabbit falls into the role of a docent / guide. Hard to catch and unhelpful, he symbolizes every museum visitor’s frustrating experience. In this scenario, the Cheshire Cat could be seen as a curator. Illusive with a mocking “better than though” attitude, he floats in and out at will, leaving no room for user-initialized interaction. The chaos at the Dutch’s house is a parallel of a weekend family morning in a poorly designed museum lobby. Analyzing the irrational behavior of the Mad Tea Party could give insight into the madness of a disorganized design process.