Is User Experience stalking me… it’s everywhere!

Image Source: Google Glass

All of a sudden all you hear about is User Experience this and User Interface that. Every graphic designer thinks they are a UI designer, and every company thinks they need one. Well, I can’t argue with them, except that UXUI is not really new, it has been here all along. Except now the User Experience portion of the design process is given far more relevance than it has in the past. So the design challenge now becomes solving for the why and who, and not just the how.

I can see the look on people’s face when they ask me how long I have been doing this, and I reply with 15 years. UXUI just came around a few years ago. The concepts that entail UXUI have actually been around since products, themselves have been around. The intention for a particular piece of manufacturing or the fabric selected for the interior of a car, all come from understanding user experience. Donna Spencer, UX Australia Coordinator best explains the transition from being an industrial designer to a UX designer by saying “In the 90’s, everyone was just making things up as they went, and as working in statistics I was assigned to help the web team expand parts of the website. And I found Information architecture, a grounded experience that you can always go back to.” You are compiling, organizing and displaying information and statistics in a manner other can comprehend, that is users experience at it’s best.

Everything you use has a user experience process.

The UX process that was once applied to create an engaging shopping user experience while selecting a sweater, chair, or car, has now become an interactive responsive screen. In the TED talk, The Power of Design, Tony Fadell explains it perfectly by saying “If done right, everything around us can be transformed to be even better than it is today, to bring a better experience… Each thing that we touch, that is not from nature, someone had a hand in.”

In the course of 40 some years of developing mobile devices, the interaction with the end user has become much more direct and personal making User Experience a necessary element in the product development process. Although User Experience has a long history with it’s true origins’ unknown, the term was coined in 1995 by psychologist and designer, Don Norman to explain Apple’s unique user centric design approach. Because Apple was able to grasp and leverage this insight which they translated into their product designs making the iphone a huge success. Consumers responded to Apple for that very reasons, its ease of use, seamless connectivity, and high quality visual interface. The variety of personal mobile device options opened up design challenges to keep everything the same but in different environments and never let the user know. Apple and Google using material design, pioneered these strategies.

Graphic designer are now becoming UI designers.

Logos are no longer just two color icons on letterhead, and websites are no longer glorified brochures. This is where graphic design splits away from being more marketing infused to be coming more product focused. With the introduction of CMS and tools like WordPress and Vista Print, branding and web design became automated. This is when design took a sharp turn into digital interface, software, and application product design. But it was no longer static images and tables, it was responsive, which opened the door to front-end development. As much as I tried to avoid it, as a graphic designer, I saw my weakness was the lack of understanding software development. I could not get by with just basic knowledge of html, it was no longer just web interfaces and content management systems. I focused on front-end and still struggle, which is why I still rely on strong communication with the developers I work with. I didn’t have to learn more about development, but it is definitely making me a better designer.

The Difference between UX strategy and UI interface design.

After 15 years designing UI, my interest started shifting to creating an experience. I could see bad design all around me and it was haunting. Why would people pay thousands of dollars using the same advertising techniques used in the 50’s? Where were the new Don Drapers who understood digital media instead of billboards? And then came commercials like Geico, they didn’t have to make sense, but they “got” the user. So instead of the pitch, the user’s emotional response became the focus, why was I designing and who was it for. The difference now, is that the product is no longer just an object but experiences that we can interact with. We can now capture, analyze behavior patterns and respond back to all those reactions and nuances that shopper is displaying. Understand these use cases and targeting audiences is a primary guideline when trying to create an engaging experience. Creating software that applies natural guidelines that users are already comfortable with allows for the user to pay attention to your product instead of adapting to a new interface and space. In the Series The New York Times, The Psychology of space, Craig Dykers, who’s firm has been hired to redesign Time Square, explains how humans need parameters to be able to know how to react, “behavioral activities are shared amongst many features because many of them are unconscious, so we care with us these abstract movements and decisions we are not really aware of….. We realized that placing some things in key locations would allow people to manipulate their movements in a way that is more comfortable than if they had nothing to navigate around.” Pointing out that humans crave structure to base their interactions and decisions on. This is no different than the comfort a user feels when they laugh at a commercial or get a ping from a new message or alert, or frustrated when they can’t find the information they are looking for, the emotional response is engaged.

Design consistency and sustainability.

Google Material has taken this concept of patterns and guiding structural elements to application design by creating best practice guidelines and libraries of responsive layouts, and elements to help concur this overbearing task of universal digital design structures and parameters. Now that Google Material design and bootstrap libraries have given us so much support, we as designers can now really start paying more attention to the our specific users. The first thing I would do when I got a freelance job as a designer, before I would even picked up my first ibook at 21, I did my user research. True user experience research is to literally put yourself in someone’s shoes or observing their reactions to understand what is and isn’t working. The analysis and data provided by observing human interaction allows for better design decisions. Co-founder of Sony and electronics industrialist captures the concept by saying “Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience.” So although the term UXUI is all the rage at the moment, the concepts and user centric methodologies behind it have been at the core of any successful product.

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