Questioning “good” (ux) design on the web

2015's see conference (http://www.see-conference.org/) was a very inspiring event. The talks by Prof. Dr. Harald Welzer and Alexandra D. Ginsberg proved to be particularly interesting for me as a web worker. While Welzer demanded new visions of the/a better future, Ginsberg brought up the question about what good/better design is. Both talks tackled the problem of how we construct what is behind the term “better” in a context and that we have to question existing and new ideas and paradigms in order to be able to define what is better and a better future.

So what I wonder: are we asking the right questions when we try to design a better user experience?

What is “good” user experience design?

There are many definitions of what good user experience design is. Asking google for “good user experience”, the answers range from introductions (like this introduction to user experience design) to examples (i.e. like this list of 15 sites with a good user experience) to rakings (like the 2014 user experience awards). Most name accessibility, performance and good navigation structures as main objective criteria. Going into detail, there can be several opinions on the good or bad of one and the same solution to a problem.

One example is the design of login forms. Where should we put the labels? How many input fields should they have? Should the user be logged in without clicking on a button? What should happen if the user misspells his user name or password? Should we offer social media logins?

Thinking outside the box of established “good” strategies

So, what we do is: we see a problem and then we try to fix it using design. Which is what we’ve always done and it works well. And we keep fixing.

In his keynote, Prof. Dr. H. Wenzel mentioned the costs and human resources needed to hold this year’s G7 summit on Schloss Elmau in Germany. So the situation is: we have politicians, they have to meet, securely, in a location remote from the public. But what if, as a “gedankenexperiment”, those politicians wouldn’t have to meet in person to discuss global challenges? Or what if the role of politicians or the structure of politics changed so that there weren’t any politicians that would have to meet up in the first place?

When we talk about good user experience, it seems that we usually think of user needs within the boundaries of our own needs. The many blog posts and tutorials on user experience on websites ask questions like

How do we make this form user friendly?

We ask this because we imply, in many cases, that the form is something we need on our website. Our own website goals become implicit user goals (if we want a form filled out, then let’s just define this as a user goal) and we start to build the design around this implication. As designers we aim at making the form “better”, and filling out the form as easy as possible, for a “better” experience for the user.

But what if we took a step back and asked

What if we didn’t want the user to fill out a form?

Answers to this question would probably lead to totally different website elements, to different content and, eventually, to a different user experience. Would that experience be better? That’s not a question of the experience itself, but rather of the definition of “good”.

Questioning “good” design principles by looking at them from another perspective

With this post, I’m not asking designers (and by designers, I actually mean creators, including developers and editors, marketers and consultants) to stop putting forms on their clients’ websites but rather to start questioning the meaning of those forms and to put the user experience around those forms in another context. To change their perspective. By forms, of course, I mean not only forms (that was just an example) but basically everything we create on the web.

Prof. Dr. H. Welzer stated that we’ve lost our future in that we stopped envisioning a (better) future. He argued that what we regard as visions of the future today is really nothing more than possible extensions of the present.

What if we’re doing the same in terms of web design? What if all we do today is making small adjustments to what exists, thinking that we really are creating a better future of the web? What if didn’t ask ourselves how to design something better but rather what to design in the first place? What if we asked ourselves

What if we designed for a web that didn’t have any forms? What would we make different? Would that be better?

The conference really got me thinking. What are your thoughts on this?

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