Can UX experts really crack the shell without the user???

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An expert’s role in user experience domain is totally different from others. Unlike a software coder or a programming language expert who solely relies on their inherent knowledge and experience, an UX expert is generally a multi-skilled individual who has to consider various factors and limitations before ideating and creating a solution. They can provide a workable and usable solution to a problem but they cannot be completely sure if it is tangible unless they consider, involve and validate with the elephant in the room — The USER.

Today, almost half of the service based industries are pushed to a state where they only depend on a usable product rather than a meaningful product. This push transpired because of the two like pole magnets, ‘Time’ and ‘Budget’ which keeps repelling with each other. Under these circumstances an UX expert gets less or no chance to involve the users in the ideating process and in the designing phase. As a result, they provide solutions purely on their assumptions of the users’ needs and their past experiences and expertise in the field. Well this is not something new. This has been happening across various industries for a quite a long time. If it’s not feasible to involve the users in the early design process, it’s highly recommended to involve them in the design validation phase. This is mainly because it’s hard to predict user’s behavior. They always surprise us with their feedback and actions (besides, users do not always do what they say!). An expert’s inputs to a product’s design solution and user’s feedback on how the solution works will always have variations. Users often quote issues that experts don’t expect.

Usability Testing bridges this gap in validating the product both in the early (formative) and final (summative) stage of design. These test findings reveal more than how usable it is and how it connects emotionally to the end users. Today, experts can think and claim their solution can work perfectly but it’s in user’s hand to give the final approval. This does not mean that an UX expert/designer has less role in crafting the solution. They in fact have a much bigger role to play than one would expect. It is also equally important to perform an expert review through the lens of usability standards, principles and trends. They orchestrate the needs of users with their expertise along with the requirements of the business to create a usable, impactful and experiential solution. But the right design direction can only be validated with the actual users of the product. Of course, users are not designers but designers are not always the actual users.

Jakob Nielsen quoted that, “it’s always safe to believe on empirical data than believing on guessing/assuming a data”. I found this statement to be very true when I worked on one of the Telecommunication project. My role as a UX designer was to re-define a new product line series for a large telecommunication company. As anticipated, we did not get a chance to involve users during early design phase. But we were fortunate to include them in the validation stage. I did a usability testing with a high-fidelity prototype and carefully observed the users. The thoughts, reactions and feedback they provided had more do with user experience of the product than general usability problems (thanks to the expert review). This triggered a question — Are users the real experts here? The answer is ‘No’. They are ‘THE USERS’ and they can be irrational sometimes. They naturally react to a product. Users do not imagine and use the product the way UX experts would have thought about it. Their lens is different and they are unaware of usability standards/principles or any great UX books that the expert would have injected into their design. User’s goal is to complete the task in their context with seamless experience. They even do not mind telling a straight ‘No’ to a trend setting break-through design if it’s not working their way. Users may not be able to articulate what they need exactly. But ultimately since every design solution is done for the users and it becomes the responsibility of the UX experts to find what the user’s need.

To summarize, an UX expert can predict and probably foresee multiple things from their past experiences and knowledge. To find and fix the root cause of a problem, they must validate with the end user. After all, the design is not a personal asset for UX designers. It’s for the big elephant — the USER!