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Stop Paying Lip Service to the User Experience

Did you know that many organisations are desperate to hire you? As users have become ever more demanding, the need to provide a great experience has skyrocketed. Organisations are desperate to hire good user experience designers.

Unfortunately those same organisations do not understand what user experience design is all about. Worse still, many of those who call themselves user experience designers are nothing of the sort. The problem lies in confusion over the difference between “user experience design” and “user interface design”.

UX Design Versus UI Design

Many job advertisements ask for a “UI/UX designer”, as if both are interchangeable. But that is not the case. Mike Monteiro put it well when he tweeted:

What Mike was driving at, was that a user interface is a long way from a great user experience. The user experience does not stop at the edge of the screen. Instead it is an end-to-end journey, from the initial engagement with an organisation to the last moment.

Walt Disney created user experiences You create user interface
Walt Disney created user experiences. You create user interface

Disney understand this all too well, and it is clear from the design of their parks. Disney craft every aspect of the experience from the rides all the way through to the themed hotel rooms and character dining.

Disney believe so much in creating a great user experience that they invested $1 billion in upgrading their parks. All to support the new Magic band. A simple wristband with an RDF chip, that allowed Disney to enhance the experience.

The Disney Magic band allows Mickey to seek out a child who is having a birthday and wish them happy birthday by name. It allows people to unlock their hotel door and make purchases anywhere in the park without having to carry a wallet. In fact this simple device offers all kinds of enhancements to the user experience. All without the need for an interface.

Golden Krishnas excellent book demonstrates just how little a good experience has to do with the user interface
Golden Krishna’s excellent book demonstrates just how little a good experience has to do with the user interface.

If you are going to call yourself a user experience designer you are going to have to address a lot more issues than the design of an interface. This is something that you will not be able to do alone.

You Cannot Design an Experience Alone

Although it is possible for a designer to create a user interface alone, you cannot say the same about the user experience. Even if you limit your definition of user experience to a screen-based interaction, a designer needs a lot of support.

Take your average, run of the mill website. You need content specialists to ensure copy is relevant. SEO people to make sure users can find the website. Developers to build functionality and increase performance. In short you need a team.

As you widen the definition of the user experience to include social media or mobile, then the team of people grows further. If you expand it again to include all elements of the experience, those involved covers everybody in a the company!

The website is just one part of the user experience ecosystem
The website is just one part of the user experience ecosystem.

We need to be working with colleagues, not just throwing designs over the wall. You can keep things simple to begin with. If you are working with a developer go and sit next to that developer as you design. Ensure she is seeing work as you produce it. Engage her in discussion about the choices you are making. The same applies to content people, marketers or any stakeholders in the project.

As the group of stakeholders grows you might need to change approach. Consider running workshops where you prototype solutions together. There is an excellent book by Google Ventures that outlines one possible approach. But in truth, there is no one right way. All that matters is that you stop working alone; that you start engaging with colleagues from across the organisation.

Sprint offers one possible approach to workshopping with colleagues
Sprint offers one possible approach to workshopping with colleagues.

Not that all these colleagues will get the importance of providing a great user experience to begin with. They may take some persuasion. That is where you will need to become a user experience advocate.

Become an Advocate

If we believe in the idea of improving the user experience, it is going to take a lot more than design skills. Many organisations are just not setup for providing a great experience. They are internal-focused, poorly structured and ill equipped.

The chances are that you are not in the position to change that. But that does not mean you cannot help instigate those changes. All you need to do is convince colleagues, clients and management how important a great user experience is!

Of course, that is a lot harder to do than it is to write. It involves us learning how to sell user experience. Even then, it will be a long slog. But that is what you will have to do if you want to call yourself a user experience designer.

Although that sounds intimidating a few simple activities will get you on your way. For example, encourage colleagues and management to attend the usability sessions you run. You do run usability testing, don’t you?

Steve Krugs book Rocket Surgery Made Easy will guide you through the process of running open usability sessions
Steve Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy will guide you through the process of running open usability sessions.

The more you can expose others to users, the easier you will find it to convince them of the importance of a great experience.

Maybe take a leaf out of MailChimp’s book and turn your user personas into attractive posters that you put up around your office. This will remind your colleagues to think of the user as they go about their daily work.

Remind colleagyes about the user by turning personas into office art
Remind colleagues about the user by turning personas into office art.

We also need to show our clients and colleagues what best practice in user experience design looks like. One approach would be to send regular email updates. This lets you drip feed them with articles and case studies about success stories. We also need to become better at highlighting our own successes. At showing how user experience can provide value to the business.

At the end of the day, the best way to sell user experience design is to show it. Management, colleagues and clients find it hard to picture what a better user experience looks like. As a result they are reluctant to embrace the cost of change. That is why prototyping is so important.

We Must be Iterating the Experience

Prototyping allows colleagues to see what could be, without having to invest a lot of money up front. It allows them to see the potential, while managing risk.

But prototyping has another benefit too. It introduces colleagues and clients to a different way of working. It introduces them to the idea that the user experience is something that requires constant iteration. That on day one you will never get it right, but that by monitoring and testing you can learn how to make things better.

It is impossible to create an outstanding user experience without testing what you are building with users. I have been working in user experience for over twenty years and I’m still surprised every time I speak to users.

By building a prototype and testing it with users you can learn how to improve the experience. All before pouring money into the final build.

A Call to Action

I am aware that this is all a lot to ask. I am asking you to expand your definition of being a designer well beyond what you may have considered it to be in the past. I’m asking you to change the way you work and to accept the messiness that comes with many stakeholders.

The choice is now yours. You can either step up and take on this challenge or recognise it is not for you and stay where you are. There is nothing wrong with focusing on user interface design. The important thing is to realise that this is not the same as user experience design.

That said, companies everywhere are in desperate need of UX designers whether they realise it or not. I would encourage you to be brave, to step out and embrace the full extent of the user experience designer role.