Is this really UX ?
Some of you might not agree, or even be offended by my attitude towards this relatively new, or repackaged interface design, but I can’t really stand it anymore. I feel that I have a moral duty to share my thoughts as a future Interaction Designer regarding this boundary between real UX design and its fake little brother used everywhere as a marketing tool.
“I designed this premium app”, “I created this new whatever service”, “I redesigned the dentist appointment system”. If I have a penny each time one of these phrases appeared on one of my social media news-feeds I wouldn’t need to struggle with my thesis right now. It seems that the number of interface designers is continuously increasing, due to the relatively easily accessible number of digital design and programming tools as well. Don’t get me wrong, there are dozens of amazing stories with people quitting their daily jobs, becoming freelancers and suddenly earning enough money to travel around the world. However, we must be honest with ourselves and also look at the superficial stuff.
UX means user experience and nowadays there is an infinite number of possible methods for designers and researchers to reach people, find their needs, their goals and aspirations. You can do something as simple as a pager study or involve people in a participatory design process, it all comes down to the project and context. Actually, it doesn’t come down to the project and context in the real world; money and time are the drivers of this car called the design process. However, reacting to this time and money pressure, people came up with new, faster methods such as Lean UX, a form of user research accessible by pretty much everybody. I am sure that you are aware of different tools and methods, I won’t go in detail with these, but I would like to make people aware of such things.
These pseudo projects that designers keep posting on various kinds of social platforms are usually, if not all the time, visually appealing. Beautifully combined colour pallets, nice typography and high quality pictures are all present in these interfaces. What’s the problem then? Well, many are created as pieces of art, not as usable designs. With the risk of being ridiculed by artists, I perceive artwork as a statement escaping an artist’s creative mind, it doesn’t have to be used and it can exist on its own. Design artefacts, however, have no meaning on their own, they are created to address some sort of problem, challenge or opportunity. When we think about it, even if these were presented as projects and apps aimed for people, without really considering them in the first place, they don’t truly bring any harm and they could simply be used for inspiration.
The issue emerges when companies follow the same line of thought. Everybody wants to ‘do’ UX, to be innovative, to bring immense customer value, all using the least amount of resources and time. First of all, you don’t design an experience itself, you design for an experience. Think of experience as a connection between the self and an object; the object exists in a highly vulnerable environment affected by many different aspects and the self brings into the experience all other past experiences, skills, knowledge, mental models and needs and desires. You would design for such an event to take place under some certain circumstances, but not the event itself.
It’s simply not possible to take that many factors into account and not put the proper resources into it and most designers are aware of this. Apps, websites, dashboards and other platforms are published everyday by both large and small digital design companies and many products fail to truly address their users’ needs. I have experienced that myself, some designer in some department uses a few benchmarks, a persona and takes a brief look at a PDF( in which the researchers had to compress all sorts of interesting user findings into a few concise feasible requirements) and then proudly presents the solution to the client using big buzz words: ownership, innovative, UX, the UI will do this and that, etc.
It’s not enough to ask people would you like this to be blue or red? The moment they choose blue, you make everything blue and then argue that blue is a professional colour which will inspire trust. BS. Why do they like blue? Maybe a specific user group enjoys outdoor activities, so one could create something related to this meaning. You have to encourage and enable people to truly express themselves, not only to fill in a form with a few constraining alternatives. The main idea is to go broad, as broad as the project allows you and than start focusing, if you want to land on the exact B-72 zone on the surface of Mars, you first have to go into the vast, unknown space. Obviously, this is a rather silly example, but the point is that UX is much deeper than a few requirements and superficial user related tools. It’s actually much deeper, rooted to psychology and social theories, but that could be an entirely different topic. Have some open interviews, step out of the office and chase your users, find out what do they like to eat, why are they dreaming of, create some real bonds. You won’t just learn more about them, but you will have created a strong reference point in your memory, whenever you’ll have to decide you might ask yourself: “What would X like to have here and why?”. As one of my professors said: “You must learn how to shut up and listen to people sometimes.”
What is the point of this superficial work? The project ends up being made for the designer her/himself. The client has some input into the project, but even then, many designs fail. Look at all these e-commerce web pages that were redesigned over a long period of time and failed because of the lack of maintenance: dozens of pages without products, empty titles and links.
What is the point in calling ourselves UX designers if all that we do is walk around with Apple products, fancy notebooks, pencils, pretend to be coffee and tea lovers and only touch the surface of real UX by creating these clean and premium designs?