Written by Charbel Zeaiter
Explaining what User Experience Design is goes something like a recent conversation I had with my parents:
[DAD]: So I can tell my friends; what do you do again? I’ve been telling them you work with computers.
[ME]: I sometimes use a computer for work. What I do is help design websites and apps that people can use and hopefully make their lives easier.
[MUM]: Oh, you’re a graphic designer, like your Brother!
[ME]: Not really. I help make designers lives easier by working out what we’re building before they start designing. Like when Dad is on Facebook, he learns quickly that by tapping the “Like” button and it turning blue, he’s done something.
[MUM]: Oh, you’re a computer programmer, like your Uncle!
[ME]: Actually, think of me like an architect and things like Facebook are buildings. Before Dad retired, he’d hire an Architect who created all the plans – the sketches of how it looks, the plumbing, the electricals, the doors, the windows – everything that the builder would need to know exactly what to build. We do that, but we do it for apps and websites.
[DAD]: So you work with computers.
[ME]: I love you Mum & Dad
… and so the conversation has been with many people for over 18 years, since I started my career in digital.
Simply put, User Experience is the process of understanding and designing to solve problems in order to create satisfaction. We solve problems for real people in their real contexts.
Getting to know you, our process typically starts off with a workshop where we get to know you, your business, your goals, enough information to understand your customers and a high level understanding of how your customers are experiencing a problem that you’ve hired us to solve.
Strategy and Research
To do this in a meaningful way, we start the process with Strategy and Research. To create something truly insightful, meaningful and useful cannot be created in the absence of understanding. That’s what research is all about. Understanding the goals of a company and helping form a customer strategy is useless unless we also spend time understanding the goals of their customers. Meeting the people both at company and customer level is critical.
Let’s face it, as a group of industry professionals, most of us can design anything. We can take a brief from a client and go in and design a product and, with the experience we have, this product will be usable. However, is it useful? Is it desirable? Does it reflect your business? Is it what your customers truly need?
We invest in research so we don’t build the wrong usable thing.
The real gems to problem solving are found in understanding what people are currently doing in order to solve their problems. We do this using a variety of techniques from one on one interviews which afford us a deeper understanding of your customer through to contextual inquiries or field studies, which give us the opportunity to observe people in the real context of how they’re experiencing problems and how we might solve for these problems.
To give form to research, we enter the analysis part of the UX process which gives us the opportunity to humanise the research.
These days, often without the luxury of lengthy research processes, we use proto-personas to give us enough of an understanding to move into concept and validation. A persona is an archetype, a fictional representation of the customer group experiencing problems. We use them to drive design and feature decisions, focusing the product team on creating the right solution for the Customer, reducing the subjective nature of feature decision-making.
From there, we create Customer Journeys. Ideally these show the process in which a Customer follows in order to achieve their goals. Not just a step-by-step task process, this is an important technique used to understand time, context, device and most importantly, feeling.
These days, we’re increasingly using the Customer Journey technique to go even deeper and map the systems and internal processes that align to the Customer Journey (this is Service Design – another topic altogether).
About Design Sprint methodology
We need to chat. Waterfall delivery is over. Like 1970’s waterfall inspired wallpaper scenes, this mode of delivery no longer has a place in modern product development.
Understanding the bigger picture and the project objectives, our goal is to get your correct product out to the market as quickly as possible. The concept of Kaizen ensures that we create excellence and dismiss the neurotic pursuit of perfection, creating a product that is right for right now.
Concept, Validation and Design
If we dive straight into the design process without having completed the previous stages, we’ve done so with very little but assumption and experience. Assumption is dangerous and somewhat arrogant as we run the risk of designing for ourselves. Experience is equally dangerous as we run this risk of applying solutions to problems that we’ve already solved for someone else’s business, not yours.
Keeping our customers at the core of the process, these days User Experience Design is changing as rapidly as technology is. Borrowing heavily from the Agile Development methodology and Google’s 5-day Sprints, modern UX designers are moving away from waterfall delivery and are adopting a rapid, lean and focused approach to releasing a product that can be both delivered quickly and correctly.
The Concept and Design phase gives us the opportunity to explore low fidelity concepts by putting them in front of real customers to see that we are on the right track to creating a useful, usable and meaningful solution to their needs. This is a collaborative and iterative process and is critical in establishing the fundamental Experience Principles for the product.
Using low fidelity methods such as whiteboards and paper allows us to adapt and refine quickly before anyone becomes attached to a particular design solution.
If you’ve worked with an Information Architect before, you’re likely to be familiar with this phase. This is the detailing of the concepts in the form of wireframes; the design blueprint that details the page hierarchical structures, content areas as well as the interactions between functions and pages.
In our newer Design Sprint approach, we work closely with developers to ensure that we’re building the right thing at the right time. Solving the right problem for the right customer.
We heart UX
There’s more to what we do as a profession, so much so that there are countless books written on it, many online courses from basic to detailed and of course, you can learn User Experience Design at Academy Xi.
Changing the world is our vision; we’d love to support your learning and help you use your new skills to make a positive impact on the world.
See you in the future!