Cars: a perfect example of applied user-first design. Credit: Caryn Farvour

Practical UX: The Perspective

Apply user experience principles to every day practices

Together, with five experienced UX professionals, designers, and successful authors we’re going to share with you our favorite tools and habits for applying usability in everyday work. These folks know their stuff, and I’m sure you’ll learn a great deal following the work each of them does.

Many thanks to Ryan Singer (Felt Presence, Basecamp), Brad Colbow (Colbow Design, The Brads), Sarah Doody (The UX Notebook, UX Mentor), Jeff Gothelf (author Lean UX, Sense & Respond), and Josh Seiden (author Lean UX, Sense & Respond).


If you’re here, you may have an idea of what User Experience (UX) is, and maybe you also understand how it impacts the world of software development. So how do you begin applying valuable UX principles to your daily work? Glad you asked, let’s dive in!

The User-Centric Mindset

The core of all software, whether mobile apps or websites, all boil down to the people who you’re designing and building for. The user is the most important aspect of software. Without a good experience for the user, the product fails.

To ensure you’re considering the user in all things, here are a few tips.

Design with Empathy

Empathy means understanding and identifying with another person.

Photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash

Empathic design is designing software based on an understanding of users; not just their obvious needs, but also their challenges, habits, current solutions, contexts, and their relationships. You want to keep the end-user in mind in all facets of software design.

Practice Empathy:

  • Ask who the user is; what problem they have that the product solves
  • Consider everyone involved in the product
  • Remember to be clear yourself so others can empathize with you
Download your own copy here: http://bit.ly/practicalUX-empathy

Practicing thinking about the product from the user’s perspective, and asking questions from the basis of the user will pay off with more valuable deliverables. Reinforce empathetic thinking on your team by directing the conversation toward the user.

I work hard to understand the problem I’m solving. I do this by analysing the usage data of our current and competitive products and by speaking to our current and prospective customers. This grounds me in what I’m setting out to solve, rather than what I’m setting out to build.
 — Jeff Gothelf

Learn more: Practical Empathy by Indi Young


Listen to your users

You’re already practicing empathy and asking lots of questions. Now you’ll need to remember to listen carefully to the answers you get.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Listening may seem like an obvious habit to practice, but we all get caught up in our own priorities, and it’s not always easy to remember to listen. Listening allows customers, clients, or users to speak freely so that we can deliver products that solve real problems.

Download your own copy here: http://bit.ly/practicalUX-interviewing

Practice Interviewing and Listening:

  • Ask what the pain points are; the areas where the real problems lie
  • Ask for honest feedback and don’t take it personally
  • Ask open-ended questions (refrain from yes/no questions)
  • Observing a user in your system counts toward listening
Practice interviewing people. It gets easier with time. Talk less, listen more. Be humble. You’re going to hear things you’re not going to like. — Jeff Gothelf

Learn more: Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal


Tell a Story

The best way to make sure you’ve understood something that’s been said to you, is to say it back in your own way. This also applies to designing products for users.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Storytelling is the ability to express an idea in a tangible or visceral way that allows others to understand it clearly. This can be done as simply as using pen and paper to roughly sketch an idea for a screen as a wireframe or scribble a few sticky notes to sort out an idea for how a user should move through an app.

Sketching ideas isn’t the sole responsibility of the designers on a team; anyone with an idea that needs to be communicated can learn to practice good storytelling skills.

A few tips from the folks over at UXDesign.cc :

  • Share a story, instead of a wireframe. Instead of focusing on single pages, think about how features will work around the user journey. What else are they going to be doing? Where are they coming from, and what will they do next? How does the interface adapt over time?
  • Work and present your designs in context. Instead of presenting a mobile prototype from Keynote or Principle on your laptop, show it in a device similar to the one your audience will use. While designing, make sure to go back and forth between your design tool and the user’s device as much as possible.
  • Think about components and states rather than pages. “Pages” impose a certain linear thinking that is often not how the user will experience the product. Breaking down a feature into a set of possible actions and further breaking that down into interface components allow us to see where these actions make sense and how they can be incorporated into the broader ecosystem.
[We should be] focusing on journeys and mindsets more than a series of static screens that will never be how the user actually experiences [the] product
Download your own copy here: http://bit.ly/practicalUX-storytelling

Practice Telling a Story:

  • Get in the habit of carrying a notebook and pen with you to meetings
  • Sketch ideas and show them to someone to validate your concepts
  • Use sticky notes to create flows, and walk someone else through your flow using real world examples
  • Use a sharpie on stickies to train yourself to not go into too much detail
[Devs] could easily sketch a screen, create a wireframe, or map out a user flow. But to help them think from a more human (and less technical) perspective, I’d teach them storytelling and storyboarding. — Sarah Doody

Learn more about how to wireframe from this quick rundown of the basics!

Bonus! UX is not UI

As a reminder of what is and what is not User Experience, here’s a poster showing the differences between UX (User Experience) and UI (User Interface).

Download your own copy here: http://bit.ly/practicalUX-UXisnotUI

Being in the UX Mindset

Remember that User Experience encompasses all the ways a person may interact with your product. Consider the value of understanding and advocating for building things for that person. Learn to communicate your ideas through stories where the person on the other side is the hero.


Be sure to visit the other articles in the series, Practical UX: The Who and the Why where we talk about how to identify your user and how to map out the problems you’re solving for them. As well as Practical UX: The Tools of the Trade, a breakdown of software of all sorts for designers from prototyping tools to visualization programs and design system kits.

Show some love, get some inspiration, and follow the meanderings of the great folks who contributed their passion, knowledge, and experiences to help give this article some human life!

Ryan Singer (Medium), @rjs (Twitter)

Brad Colbow (Medium), @bradcolbow (Twitter)

Sarah Doody (Medium), @sarahdoody (Twitter)

Jeff Gothelf (Medium), @jboogie (Twitter)

Josh Seiden (Medium), @jseiden (Twitter)