The Rules of User Experience Design. It's a process.
Written by Charbel Zeaiter
Last week, we finished an amazing User Experience Design Course at Academy Xi, inviting 35 industry folk to a BBQ meet and greet to assess the magnificent work of our students.
Being mid-way through the current course and moving students into Sprint Design, we’re always checking-in with students to see how we can be of better service to them. As with all startups, we’ve at times adopted a “dive in and get it done” attitude. Sometimes with a good measure of success and other times we’ve had the opportunity to reflect and ask “how could we have done that better?”
Being the lead User Experience Design instructor at Academy Xi, at times a process can appear to be a mechanical, unemotional set of rules. As we’ve all experienced, there is no textbook approach to solving problems as designers.
When created well, a process or set of rules become a structural toolkit that allows us to pick and choose the correct approaches for a customer, ensuring we help them achieve their objectives:
Why do we solve problems within the structure of a process?
So we don’t build the wrong usable thing.
Here’s a true short story about a team of ethnographic researchers who were in Africa eager to create a better experience for local villagers. Observing the women walking miles each morning to collect water for the village, the researchers decided to make the women’s lives easier by building a water well in the middle of the village.
What a great idea!
So they built the well, taught the villagers how to use it and returned the next morning to find that the well had been destroyed.
Surely the villagers wouldn’t destroy something so useful? Something that would improve their lives?
…and so begins our philosophical guidelines to creating meaningful experiences.
RULE 01: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
What the researchers didn’t do was ask the women what they actually wanted. By solving a perceived problem (often referred to as an assumption), the researchers were solving problems in a way that mattered to themselves, in a way that fit into their own contexts and in a way that satisfied their own realities.
Had the researchers taken the time to observe and interview the women in context, they’d have learned that the two hours collecting water each morning was time for them to gossip about their husbands.
Of course the water well could have made their lives easier, but it’s not what the women wanted.
Some of the typical research activities that we teach help with truly getting to know your audience:
- One on one interviews
- Observation and contextual inquiries
- Personas & proto-personas
- Customer journeys
RULE 02: KNOW YOURSELF
That existential question “why am I here?” has extended to your business life and has a twin question; “what is your vision?”
This is a lengthy process that seems so abstract until of course, you nail it. For us, it’s simple: we’re here to improve people’s lives by creating meaningful digital and analogue experiences that invoke a long-lasting relationship with your brand.
By improving peoples’ lives we mean yours, your teams’ and your customers’.
Typical visioning activities and UX exercises we use at Academy Xi:
- Context and objective exercises
- Service promises
- Design challenge activities
- Service ideation and creation workshops
- Accelerated design thinking workshops
RULE 03: KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER’S WORLD
Who are the people in their lives that matter? Who are the people that influence their decision-making?
What does success mean for your customer? What is it that keeps them up at night?
Why do they need you? Why don’t they need you? How do they really really feel about you…and your competition?
Where is the customer when they’re interacting with you? Where are you when your customer needs you?
When do we show up and be of service to our customers? When do we add value and meaningful interactions?
How might we provide services that make their lives better?
This is often known to the UX world as the 5 W’s and H.Asking the right questions and knowing where to look is a key component of User Experience Design. Click To Tweet
Asking the right questions and knowing where to look is a key component of User Experience Design. At Academy Xi we research, research and research some more to find the gems that appear outside of the assumption space:
- Observation techniques
- Desktop research
- Comparative studies
- Competitor reviews
- Participatory design workshops
RULE 04: KNOW THE WORLD AROUND YOU
What are your competitors up to? More importantly, how do your customers feel about and interact with your competitors?
What are they doing well? (that’s your baseline). What are they doing poorly? (that’s your opportunity). What haven’t they thought of – yet? (that’s your point of difference).
Competition makes us all better, however, it becomes immaterial when we know ourselves and why we’re in business. By knowing ourselves and our competitors, we carve our own turf.
- Competitor analysis
- Trend assessments
- Rapid feature exploration
- Minimum Viable Product
- Vision setting
- Customer journeys
- Opportunity identification
RULE 05: PLAY. TEST. SACRIFICE. REPEAT.
Get your pencils out and sketch ideas. Test them. Refine them. Explore more ideas. Expand concepts. Build them. Test again. Sacrifice them. Start again. Then pick something.
Ideas are limitless and the barriers to prototyping are so low, you have no excuse not to play.
Go ahead. Play. It’s quick. It’s serious fun.Play. Test. Sacrifice. Repeat. Click To Tweet
At Academy Xi, we tend to play with:
- Design thinking
- Participatory design
- Rapid mobile prototyping
- Guerilla testing
RULE 06: PERFECTION
Don’t fall for that trap – the quest for perfection will stall you into irrelevance.
The concept of perfection must be reinterpreted to perfect for right now.
The pace at which change happens means that by the time we’ve even glimpsed what perfection may look like, the game has changed.
It’s now about speed and evolution. It’s perfect for right now.
At Academy Xi, perfection is:
- a collaborative process
- an MVP
- a next phase
- the marriage of UX Design and agile design sprints
RULE 07: BEAUTY
…it goes beyond being skin deep and it matters.
Breathing life and love into your brand and your products, design forms the third part of the Holy Trinity of User Experience:
We believe form and function are co-joined twins; one exists with the other and because of the other.
It’s insightful design that creates an emotional connection between your customer and your service.
RULE 08: LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
Next time you fly, pay attention to the airline safety demonstration (excuse the paraphrasing); “in the event of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting other passengers.”
Why? Because you’re only good to others when you’re useful and able.
Eat well, rest well, think well, be well, do well.
You’re worth it.
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