I had an interesting moment with my design director not too long ago. After working up a paper prototype to test a series of interactions and UI screens that we knew were going to be somewhat complex, I created a quick and dirty on-device prototype to actually get people using it and see what their reactions were.The paper prototype had been tested with just a couple of people who were already somewhat familiar with the design of these elements, and the results told me that what I was trying to convey in those screens wasn’t necessarily intuitive, so I needed to get people totally unfamiliar with the project to try using the screens. An interactive on-device prototype would be my test case. It took me about a day to construct, and then I took it to a handful of people I knew hadn’t seen any mock-ups or specs for this part of the game.

The results told me that the information I was conveying on these screens, in the way I was conveying it, was confusing. I was clearly going to have to go back to the drawing board on a few things. The design director, after admitting that our idea just wasn’t clicking, said, “well, I’m sorry you had to throw away all that work.”

Now, that was a very interesting response, because in any other line of work I would agree that it was an unfortunate turn of events. But I’ve come to realize that my job as a UX Designer is actually to deliberately throw away a lot of my work.

As the UX Designer, it’s my job to vet out ideas in quick, easy, low-tech ways before it ever gets into the hands of people who have to spend a lot of time baking things into systems that would become difficult or extremely time consuming to change later. By doing mock-ups and running through them with other designers, or constructing paper prototypes, or even on-device prototypes that are simply clickable images, I can test out ideas in a way that only depended on one person’s time (mine) and didn’t require any modifications to any systems or code to write. (Paper prototypes literally are sketched UI screens with little sticky-note UI elements that I move around depending on how my test subject interacts on the screen; if you’re interested in learning more about how awesome paper prototyping is, check out my shared Evernote notebook of UI and UX articles, where I’ve saved several links about paper prototyping.)

In order to for us to avoid wasting valuable engineering time, it’s almost vital that much of my work gets thrown away. It’s better to test out ideas and waste only a day of my time than it is to waste several days of several people’s time, only to discover the idea didn’t work.

So I’m not sad at all about having to throw away much of my work. In fact, I embrace it now, and if you’re a UX Designer, perhaps you do, too.


This was originally published in my blog at carynvainio.com.