User-Centered Design

It’s a complicated beast full of process and research. There’s never one way to achieve user centered design but almost always, it involves speaking and designing around the users who are going to be interacting with the product. If there’s ever a design decision to be made, never try and guess the outcome as you’ll likely get it wrong.

Complex Design? It’s not that complex.

The most difficult part of understanding User Experience design comes in identifying the problem and proposing a solution. It’s understanding when you’re faced with a difficult decision that you need to ask the users first and not guess, you’ll likely get it wrong. Whether it’s through iterative user testing, card sorting, stakeholder interviews, paper prototyping (or prototyping in general) or persona development you first need to undertake this research to produce the most effective experience for someone using the product and you need to understand that to find this information out, there is likely a tool or process to find the information. It’s not just “doing a quick wireframe” or “a quick photoshop prototype” as it doesn’t work, and UX has proved that over time. Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest differences. Google are a company who have recently introduced a big redesign of their products and their principles for the company directly influence their user experience. Listen to Jon Wiley, a User Experience designer at Google explain why it’s important to understand how people use products and how you can change them for the better.

The Government is also taking note. The directgov site is a great example of poor design and poor IA. They’ve gone from a position of “lets throw all the information on the page possible” to a more structured idea of “design with data”. They’ve laid out their design principles online for the world to see, and they’re setting a great example of how to do it properly with the new GOV.UK site.

What should we be doing to introduce UX?

Technophobia Workshop Note: Image shamelessly knicked from Technophobia, from their sponsored drum page on “Becoming a collaborative UX designer“. That’s the Ginger Predator @martsky.

If a client has a problem, often UX should be the starting point. It should be the first thing we talk about and put forward. Why? Because we need to set into the minds of the client that the product isn’t about them, it’s about the people who use it, and this will guide the direction of the design. It’s what “user centered design” is all about and it’s what ultimately will make the client the most money, best return on KPI’s and best feedback from users. Problem solving is a difficult task to kick start. We can start with workshops such as persona development, task analysis or many other kick off meetings to help introduce UX into the company but the simple goal to get into the clients mind is that user centered approach. That to answer the questions they’re asking we need an educated response from the users. We can gather this data in many ways but some of the most important are:

  • Stakeholder interviews If we can get direct access to the users and/or stakeholders, we’ll get the best response. Through interviewing them one to one we’ll achieve the best results.
  • User Testing and/or Guerrilla User Testing The more formal version involves setting up a user scenario and some carefully structured tasks to get the best results from the user. The latter Guerrilla User Testing involves a laptop and a coffee shop. We can test pretty much anything on anyone,anywhere and make it up as we go along. Both methods will get results from real users who might have never seen the product before.
  • Sketching workshop A sketching workshop can help drive out requirements. If you’re struggling to understand what the client is trying to convey, get them all in a room with a UX designer and watch the creativity flow across the page. This I was taught from my old boss at Technophobia. (hat tip to Candy Diemer, UX Lead at Technophobia)

How should UX work?

It’s actually quite simple. User Experience design works when you notice it the least. If you manage to complete your tasks easily, with little difficulty, we know we’ve done our job correctly. If users are having difficulty getting to the right tools, have long or difficult user journeys and are generally complaining a lot, alarm bells should be ringing to notify us of that.