Why User Experience design is not bullshit
Too many times I’ve witnessed a lack of User Experience (UX) design for digital productions. Either I’ve heard “We don’t have time to do UX design”, or “UX design doesn’t apply to this kind of project”, even “UX design doesn’t allow us to be creative”. Let’s see why UX design is not bullshit and why these kind of sentences should never be said again.
For a lot of people, the term UX design itself is confusing, so let’s start over with the basics. There are probably different approaches to define what UX design is, I’ll go with the one which, I think, applies for every digital productions (service oriented, brand promotion / campaign or entertainment). Below, the list of UX design stages :
Regarding the brief, this stage allows the team to come up with ideas that should answer both the brief and user needs. A brainstorm session should always include, at least, digital designers and developers. The more people there are to a brainstorm session, the less the session will be productive. Define a team to work on a project. An efficient team is not the whole agency, it’s 4–5 people (note : it can be the whole agency if you’re 4–5 people in total though). Way too often, developers are not part of it because of bad management, but they have a lot to bring to the table, both regarding technical aspects (feasibility) / innovation and ideas.
Ideally the brainstorm room should be equipped with a white board : speaking about ideas is cool, writing / drawing them is way better. A brainstorm session is something which should be active, the worst way of doing it is to sit down around a table and speak. Move into the room, be active. Get some pens, paper, post-it and write / draw your ideas. Then mix them together, define interesting / strong axes to make ideas evolved (of course you’ll need to speak at some point while doing that).
Pick and develop the best idea from the brainstorm session. A good way to start doing it is to describe the concept in one sentence. Then, focus on the main feature(s) of the website, the heart of it. At the end of this concept phase, the global vision of the project should feel strong and coherent with the brief / user needs.
Once the concept is solid and unique, define more precisely the flow of the project by listing all the different sections : the majors as well as the minors. And think about how they are linked to each other. This stage is important to break down the website architecture and avoid missing any section.
On paper, it always helps to draw roughly the concept. Writing about it is cool, but at some point it needs to become more concrete than words. By doing drafts, it’ll highlight what works from what doesn’t and at the end it’ll make the concept stronger.
The content map is basically an advanced site map. Each sections / pages of the website will have its content precisely listed. It can be something like : Homepage > background video, title, tagline, button “Discover the experience”, share buttons, etc. Doing that for every page will allow you to think about the content, define what will be its tone, and prevent forgetting elements.
This stage concerns the importance of information within a page, it’s all about hierarchy. It’s thinking about what will need to be the most highlighted element into each page of the website. For instance, let’s say we have a page presenting a movie, it’ll make more sense to have the title of the movie bigger than its duration.
Define what elements of the website will be interactive and think about the best / most appropriate way for users to interact with them. This stage is definitely one of the most important, it’s when you need to create a coherent interaction language that fits the concept and user needs. During this stage you also need to think about feedbacks for the user. If the user does this action, what kind of feedback will he receive? And if he does this other action, would it be the same kind of feedback? Every question needs to be asked and answered.
A user flow is about creating a user scenario which will simulate an action (or several) that the user wants to do (Checkout his cart on a ecommerce platform for instance). It’ll show all the interactive steps (the flow) that he’ll need to do to achieve this action. This stage is really useful especially to think about the interactive feedbacks to have for the user while he’s going through the flow. It also allows enhancing the flow between each sections / actions. And getting a good global overview of the project.
This is the most final step before deeply jumping into the visual design and development of the project. Wireframes are the skeleton of the project, it’s a simplified visual representation of the project (basically simple shapes to represent interactive elements and content, simple fonts, and no colors needed, just grey shades). It regroups all the previous stages in one : content (wording, copy, pics, video, etc), information architecture (scale, importance and positioning of each elements) and interaction design (buttons, interactive elements).
Having wireframes allows the visual designer not to waste time thinking about what element should be the most important, how long the copy will be for this baseline, if this element should be interactive or not and what will be the most appropriate interaction for it, etc. On the technical aspect, the developer will be able to build the structure and the flow of the project, to start a prototype even if the visual design is not done yet.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying all these stages should be done in this order, in fact they will probably mix together at some point through the evolution of the project. They’ll evolve as well.
Also, thinking that UX design is only doable by UX designers, well sorry, but that’s not true. UX design should involve all the team members of a project, it needs to be a team effort, not one person doing his thing at his desk. So yeah that means giving time to the team to do it properly.
1. “We don’t have time to do UX design.”
Saying that is equal to saying “We don’t have time to create great projects”, it doesn’t make sense. UX design is the base to build a great project. Getting rid of it is like trying to put up the windows before building the walls of an house, it doesn’t make sense.
In fact if lacking time is the reason you don’t do UX design for your project, be sure you will waste much more time by not doing it. Let me explain why. All the stages described above are essential for a production to be solid. Let say you did the brainstorm stage, briefly came up with a concept, still not sure of how things will work in term of interactions and flow but you decide anyway to start the production. What will happen is that you’ll need to think about interactions, elements that need to be in this page and this one, type of content for this other page, etc. and instead of focusing on the visual design and development of the project, you’ll try to do everything at the same time and you can be sure that the result will be disappointing and the waste of time considerable.
If time is the enemy, then you need to deal with it.
2. “UX design doesn’t apply to this kind of project.”
Saying that is equal to saying that your project doesn’t need an idea, or a site map, or interactions for users. No, it makes no sense. If you want to make quality digital projects, unfortunately a good looking visual design and smooth animations are far from enough.
3. “UX design doesn’t allow us to be creative.”
Saying that refers probably to a lack of knowledge on the subject. UX design has nothing to do with killing creativity, on the contrary it enhances it on a lot of different levels.
Moreover, having a good process and methodology before starting the production (visual design / development) will allow each team member to be much more efficient at doing their task. Why? Because all of them will have the same vision on the project and will know what to focus on, what are the priorities. They’ll also get inspired during the UX phase of the project and unconsciously start thinking about the visual design, the animations, the transitions, etc. It’s way better than being snapped up into a project without knowing anything about it and starting the production right after a “kick off meeting”.
UX design matters and it shouldn’t be considered as an option for any digital production. Besides creating stronger and smarter projects, it helps saving a considerable amount of time in the production phase, as well as making team member more involved and efficient.
UX design is definitely not the enemy, it’s here to improve productions and build a better World Wide Web.