The UX Movement: Good UX From the Bottom Up

In modern development, more and more attention is being paid to user experience (UX). While many companies still look primarily inward when it comes to informing design and creating interfaces, some of the most successful firms place a greater emphasis on who the average user is and the ways that they are likely to use systems. For years, design and development have been confined to separate silos, but with the rise of UX, the two increasingly inform each other.

The principles behind UX were summed up nicely when the U.S. Air Force, testing new jet designs, discovered that building cockpits designed for average size of a pilot fit no actual pilots in practice. Lt. Gilbert S. Daniels commented on this failure, stating that, “it was clear to me that if you wanted to design something for an individual human being, the average was completely useless.”

Change can be difficult, especially if managers are too stuck in the daily grind of production to make any meaningful impact. This is why revolutionary new UX practices should start with teams of developers and designers; while ideas can come from any individual, a coordinated effort is necessary to ensure that these measures discernibly affect users..

Making a change on this level requires a certain workplace culture, that trendiest of buzzwords that conjures images of quirky Google offices with slides and arcade machines. However, beyond Google’s visible culture lies a significant shift in how the company creates their products and services.

It started with Larry Page’s tenure as the company’s CEO; suddenly, Google became focused on reworking the UI for their applications, with great success. This change was facilitated by an open exchange of information between product teams and an increase in collaboration, brought on in part by the unusual company culture and office environments. The weird fosters the creative, and mixing teams helps a myriad of ideas, practical and fanciful, to spread.

Plus, the beauty of UX is that it permeates all aspects of a company. I mentioned the ever-blurring lines between design and development earlier, but other areas of a company, such as marketing, sales, customer support, and even finance are all likely to be invested in strong UX practices. If a company can leverage this and encourage communication across teams, then they have a solid basis for improvement on multiple levels.

As with Lt. Daniels’ experience, companies striving for good UX practices will quickly find that, the more they define their audience, the better results they will see. Of course, management will need to be on board if a company is truly to embrace UX, but catering to an audience instead of them should be the ideal. As the old saying goes, “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.” Designers and developers can avoid the “camel” problem by segmenting audiences and their habits as much as possible when designing a product or system. They can even go a step further by actively engaging with stakeholders and getting a sense of their needs and desires.

The most difficult part about shifting a company towards good UX is quite possibly convincing the higher-ups that changing from old ways is profitable. Existing statistics indicate that better design makes for a better company, but when dealing with management, any team will have to frame the benefits of UX in terms of goals that they’re looking for. For instance, happier customers alone won’t be satisfactory, but a higher percentage of repeat customers may turn some important heads. Part of UX is prototyping, and testing a product on members of a targeted audience can be eye opening to designers, developers, and managers alike.

There is no perfect ideal to strive for with UX; simply an endless series of goals. Still, a shift in culture can guide product evolution in the right direction and keep businesses from stagnating and becoming out of touch with their users. Ideally, the entire company should be on board with this progressive philosophy, but in order for it to gain ground, it needs to start at the roots with passionate developers and designers.