11 May 2013 by Jay Heal
Recently, I came across a really good post on UX Mag by Joseph Dickerson called The Greatest Secrets of UX Revealed. After a few minutes and realising I had been gently nodding and gently laughing, it occurred to me that this blog post spoke volumes to me. I am lucky enough to have worked with some truly great graphic, visual and UX designers in my time – some of them just generally awesome all-round designers who could design anything you ask.
I have very strong beliefs in what makes great design from these differing design disciplines. For the more visual designer, the game is all about adding the dimension of visual appeal that aligns to that of the brand and message – a really hard thing to do in my opinion and takes a long time to get this really nailed as a profession. Not to mention all the technical ability required to master their tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc) as well culturing that creative eye.
UX is another beast all together. A great visual design does not mean a great user experience. In Joseph Dickerson’s post, he spoke of “User Experience Designers Don’t Design User Experiences” where every designer is creating an experience for an end user, this can be an equally good or bad experience. The role of a person in UX is to get close to the needs of the users and to empathize with their goals so that all of our layout and journey decisions taken in the design phase are the best ones (mostly). There will always be commercial pressure that may lead to a bad user experience, but the role of UX is to be the voice of the users and to balance both needs in the product development process as best we can.
Every project has differing time scales and challenges to work within, but a great UXer has the ability and toolkit to use what they can within the constraints of the project. I think there is a great myth that UX is a block of work at the beginning of a project that holds everything up. This is far from the truth, UX runs concurrent within the design phase within a Waterfall approach and, most crucially, along the whole development cycle within an Agile environment.
For me, it is important to remember UX needs to be measurable.I am not necessarily talking about the importance of the UX activities against ROI as this is a very ambiguous area. As designers, we need to be accountable for every design decision made and to do this we need to validate these. Without this user feedback loop back into design process, we are designing in the dark without knowing whether we made the right or wrong decisions.
Again, as Joseph points out in his blog post we need to embrace failure. You learn a lot more when things go wrong then when things go right. Without the acknowledgement that we can’t always get things 100% right we are merely kidding ourselves, understanding users is a life long task.
Another point I think is increasingly becoming important within UX is the ability to influence. I don’t want this to sound like a negative trait but one that allows us to get our points across clearly to a wider team of disciplines and audiences. We need to be honest in both the good and bad points and allow the collaboration as a team come up with the best solutions – UX is not about our opinion always being the right one.
Some of the best projects I have worked on (in terms of speed and end result) have been ones with the level of communications between the wider teams that allows everyone to work together on ideas – working in silos is a really dangerous habit we have all become guilty of. Does it really matter a developer has come up with a great UX idea? Of course not, it is most important the idea was thought of in the first place and that there is a creative space for everyone to voice ideas.
This goes full circle back to the point of what design as discipline should be and should not be. Design is not just a means to make things just look great or ‘pop’ as I was once asked to do. The role of design is to solve problems (although it is true the design itself can be the problem, but that’s a wider debate). The solution to a problem does not have to come from a designer, the inspiration or initial idea can come from anywhere. Whitney Hess made a great point in a recent blog post called ‘What’s Your Problem? Putting Purpose Back into Your Projects’:
“If we don’t take the time to learn about the people we serve, we’ll never end up creating a solution that really makes their problems go away. We’ll just be creating a bandaid that will eventually stop working.”
As UX advocates, we are the driving force of identifying these needs, whether it be trying to book a discount holiday within a certain set of parameters or to keep them up-to-date on the breaking news. Once we have identified these, we must generate and validate ideas with our users as a team – the solutions business is not isolated to that of UX.