Thursday, May 23, 2024

About UX

Firstly, there are no “non-designers”.

“Design…is a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.” — Charles Eames

We all try to arrange things to accomplish the purposes that concern us, and that’s design — through the words we use, through the people and objects we choose to surround ourselves with, and even through the ways we allocate our time. Everyone’s a designer with varying experience and skills to address the problems they face.

Although, we may not all know how to formulate good designs, most people can unanimously identify really bad designs—they don’t work, and they’re ugly.

Most people can unanimously identify really bad designs—they don’t work, and they’re ugly.

The 7 Qualities of Every Great Product

1. Fulfills a need

You need empathy.

U.X. stands for User eXperience. A UX designer’s job is to draw up solutions related to a user’s experience with a product (often a digital product like a website or app).

People get stuck when they use products. A UX Designer uncovers ways to help them to get unstuck, or, ideally, not get stuck in the first place. UX is about deeply understanding and anticipating needs.

UX is about deeply understanding and anticipating needs.

The most important aptitude for a UX Designer to develop is an empathy mindset. An individual’s experience is not just made up from what they do but also what they are thinking and feeling. Perception is their reality. UX Designers must ask themselves, why are people thinking, feeling, and doing things a certain way? The quicker they can tap into this truth, the quicker they will be able to come to a viable design to address the users’ needs.

Start by watching this video about the IDEO Shopping Cart. It should give you an idea of the kind of empathetic, human-centered design thinking required to be successful in UX Design.

Although, this video deals with the design of a physical product rather than a digital one, the thoughtfulness, empathy, exploration, and cross-discipline coordination required in UX Design is the same.

The value UX Designers provide vs. What others expect

Here’s what an average UX Designer is ultimately hired to deliver. This is what people expect:

User interface plans, i.e. “comps” or “mock-ups”, beautifully sketched and perceived as simple (screenshot taken from Invision’s Velocity UI Kit)
The Disciplines of User Experience Design diagram by Dan Saffer and Thomas Gläser. Read more about it on Fast Company.

To be clear, a fancy, clean user interface drawing is the work of someone who specializes in visual communication, a User Interface Designer, but that doesn’t mean a UX Designer won’t be asked to step up and do it. Many, if not most, UX job listings out there today seek for a “UX/UI Designer”, basically one person who can do everything (a “full-stack” product designer, if you will).

Like the architect of a building, a UX Designer’s knowledge must be fairly general with at least a high-level understanding of all the various aspects and disciplines under the user experience umbrella. In fact, early software designers in the 1980’s turned to architecture for inspiration. They recognized the similarities between designing physical spaces and digital spaces.

Because most people lack the skills to create attractive visual designs, and because the screens of a website/app are visual, visual design is often where a designer’s value is tied to. The real work of UX Design (and what is not always appreciated) is everything that was done behind-the-scenes that lead to an intuitive, delightful design.

Making intuitive designs

Products are expensive to build and maintain. No one wants to invest the time, effort, and money in a design that looks nice but no one can figure out how to use it. There are ways to reduce the risk of a product flop; one way is user testing, and it’s part of a UX Designer’s job.

Intuitive means that your target customer can pick up your product and learn how to use it to get to the value they desire without getting frustrated. The key to making something intuitive is clarity—making the product’s purpose and operations clear to the customer.

Stated another way…

“Players find controls to be intuitive when they can translate intent to outcome without ambiguity.” — Game Feel, Steve Swink, p.16

Ken Shimura’s Door Prank comedy sketch hilariously captures the bewilderment caused by unintuitive design.

So many of the stumbling blocks that might trip someone up can be caught early on in the design process just by getting the designs in front of someone and watching them use it. This simple step alone is often enough to awake yourself to the flaws of your design. Of course, there are countless methods for testing a design at various levels and to learn specific things (UX Research is a discipline in and of itself).

Intuitive means that your target customer can pick up your product and learn how to use it to get to the value they desire without getting frustrated.

Ensuring that design is intuitive is the baseline, the minimum requirement.

If you’re interested in learning more, the IDEO Design Kit is a great resource for those starting to learn about exploratory and evaluative research methods for design.

Screenshot of IDEO Design Kit

Going beyond intuitive

A design that is merely functional or intuitive can feel like it was designed for a robot rather than a human. We are emotional creatures. There is an art to the discipline. Great UX Designers strive to convey a feeling with a product. They have a sense of storytelling, and they design to orchestrate very specific kinds of experiences. Designers in the gaming industry are masters of this.

“Rather than trying to come up with a game system that is playable in abstract, we start out by identifying an experience that we want the player to have. Are they supposed to feel large and powerful, or fearful and small? Ashamed? Ambivalent? Anxious? Disturbed? If we know the intended experience, we can then block out a representative set of performative moves that encapsulate that experience… The moves that we make as we play are a performance. They define a way of being within the world of the game, and so they form the thread from which the fabric of our experience is woven.”
— Brian Upton, Situational Game Design

How to storyboard experiences

and get your organization hyper-focused on the customer.

A good way to start doing UX Design

Like most things, the best way to learn UX Design is to actually do it. If you want to start dipping your toe into UX Design, I would recommend these four steps:

1. Pay attention to the products you use.

Try various apps, websites, video games, visit different physical spaces, use different physical products, and notice things. Pay attention to your experience. What are you doing, thinking, and feeling? What do you imagine the designers were trying to accomplish? What experience were they trying to foster? Sensing these details will help you to see how design can influence emotions and experiences.

Exploring old products will help you recognize timeless design principles. Paying attention to the new products will help you to stay current and keep your designs relevant. Noticing patterns that are commonly-used will fill your head with a toolset of controls that make sense to people who are familiar with those products.

2. Find a problem that interests you.

Think of a problem that you could address with a website or app. If its a problem that you care about, you will be motivated by your passion to solve it, which is where some of the most creative designs come from.

3. Draw up designs.

Pick a tool: pen and paper, Sketch, Figma, FramerX, Adobe XD, Invision Studio, Photoshop, Powerpoint, whatever! And get your ideas out of your head. They don’t need to be beautiful, believable, or good. They just need to be legible enough for another person to see them. This will be your product prototype.

Copy the good patterns you find; this will help you start on the shoulders of others and recognize what the building blocks of good design are. Mimicking other’s designs will help you level-up quicker.

You can also find a good design system to borrow from. Design systems come with every component of a user interface (buttons, type, tabs, form fields, etc.) pre-designed, pre-built, described, and ready for you to use. Google’s rollout of it’s “Material Design” paper-inspired design system is fascinating: . Its style and vocabulary is the direction the industry is headed right now, and it is probably the most comprehensive UI design system ever. If you’re serious about UX, you should familiarize yourself with it:

4. Get your designs in front of people ASAP, and then just observe.

This is where the magic of UX Design takes place: the user test. That is, testing your designs with a user. User testing is where you learn and come-to-terms with the fact that every person thinks differently and where you discover that what you thought your design communicated, doesn’t. It’s important to do this early-on before you waste a lot of time creating a design that isn’t at all effective.

User testing is where you learn and come-to-terms with the fact that every person thinks differently and where you discover that what you thought your design communicated, doesn’t.

Here’s how you can start user testing:

  • Find a person
  • Put your rough design for a screen in front of the user.
  • Ask them to describe out loud about what they are seeing and thinking along the way, and ask them to point with their finger where they would click/tap.
  • Then show them the next screen that follows. If the user does something you don’t expect, ask why they did what they did.

You’re seeking for a deeper understanding of the user’s behaviors through observation, so that you can modify your designs and test again with someone else.

This is an example of user testing a paper prototype.

5. Record what you learned and changed.

One of the most important habits that a UX Designer should develop is recording what was learned and what about the design was changed based on what was learned. When you’re asked to defend a design decision, you can trace back to the reason for it.

Then, after you’ve gotten the hang of this, you can put what you’ve learned online and use it as a portfolio when looking for a job in UX Design.

Balancing user needs, technological constraints, and business requirements

UX Design isn’t just about serving the user(s) of your product: that is a UX Designer’s primary concern, but it’s not the only thing they consider. The minds of IDEO proposed that there are three main factors to be considered in product design, and at the intersection of all three is where innovation happens:

Desirable (to customers) + Viable (for the business) + Feasible (to build)

A design also has to be sellable to be successful, first to your organization, then to your customers. Otherwise, it will remain merely a plan.

Design is the game of trade-offs.

Remember how I said “everyone‘s a designer”?

For the record, I believe the title of “UX Designer” is wrong. User Experience Design is the sport everyone in a business is playing, whether they realize it or not. When a customer calls Support and gets treated rudely by the call center employee, it negatively affects the customer’s experience. Was that interaction part of the UX Designer’s area of responsibility? No, but it reflects poorly on the business.

User Experience Design is the sport everyone in a business is playing, whether they realize it or not.

Having all employees in a business focused on designing every aspect of the customer’s experience is not something to resist but is preferred since a customer’s journey is not limited to their interactions on a screen. Rather, every touchpoint with the organization is part of the customer’s experience—store fronts, product packaging, customer service, partner product integrations, the whole ecosystem. For this kind of distributed and infused experience design to work, everyone in an organization needs to level-up their empathy game and communication habits.

The world needs responsible designers.

Design isn’t neutral—a product’s design affects its user. Don Norman made this case in his canonical book, The Design of Everyday Things, a must-read for those interested in the field of UX.

There are going to be sadistic product designers out there that intentionally prey on the psychological vulnerabilities of humans—seeking to create digital addiction, cause harm, or spread mis-information. But I believe an even more dangerous and prevalent threat is the designer that is naive of the impact their products are actually having on people’s lives and their relationships, especially longterm impacts. From disturbing trends like Snapchat dysmorphia to an extractive attention economy—we need to be more deeply cognizant of human nature, have an awareness of the impact of our designs, and we need to be very, very careful.

We must to be more deeply cognizant of human nature, we must have an awareness of the impact of our designs, and we must to be very, very careful.

With networking technology, product creators have the potential to influence people at a massive scale, more so than we may realize. This makes the need for responsible designers even greater.

In short, I echo Seth Godin’s plea: “Make things better by seeking to make better things.”



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here