User Experience Design: An Overview And The Philosophy Behind It
(Author: Rui Rela; Editor: Isaac Simon)
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of giving a talk at Mobiquity on the topic of UX. Instead of focusing on the technical side, I discussed the philosophy and mindset behind approaching UX, and how you can apply UX thinking across other disciplines and daily life.
During the talk, we took a bird’s eye view of UX and combined it with examples from the real world. We went through the main components that make up a good UX mindset: Research, Content Strategy, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, and Visual Design.
The very first thing to think about is what concrete problem needs to besolved, otherwise, everything else in the UX process becomes meaningless. So it’s important to start with the “why.” To get to your “why,” you need Research.
When starting with the “why”, it’s important to understand the business context. For instance, at some point in his life, Einstein was invited to give a talk to a group of people. After researching his target audience, he realized that they were not going to grasp the complexity of the theory he was going to present (quantum physics), and being an avid violinist, he decided, together with the business, that it would be a better idea for him to play the violin.
The public in this case really wanted to be there for Einstein as a figure, not his theories. He arrived at the idea to play the violin instead of giving a complex talk after determining that the audience would get more value from his music than from his ideas.
Another example of designing with the user’s needs in mind is the innovative design of the University of California, Berkeley campus .
The planners behind the campus didn’t initially design paths . Instead, they left the entire park land covered in grass and waited to see where people would walk. When the most trodden paths were visible enough, they paved them over to reflect the most desired paths.
After discovering the problem, the next step is coming up with possible solutions for that problem. This is where content strategy comes in. Another step in the design thinking phase, it focuses on the rationale behind the channel/type of device/content/product, which will create the foundation for creating the right solution.
We need to be mindful of the content that we add to our solutions and products. For instance, I had a power bank a few years ago that had a hidden, extra function as a lighter. The lighter would often ignite accidentally in my pocket, defeating the purpose of the product itself. I assumed the main use case for this product was to charge mobile phones, so I was perplexed as to the reason why they would add a lighter if it impacted the main function (charging a phone) of the product? In this case, less was more, and more was blocking product efficiency.
After framing the problem and figuring out what content will be used, the next step is designing how the content will be arranged.
This stage, called Information Architecture, is perhaps, in my humble opinion, the part of the process with the most opportunities in the industry at the moment.
A simple way to describe Information Architecture is by using the bookshelf example: If I show you my bookshelf, you will likely perceive me as a certain type of individual. If I then reorganize the bookshelf so that the order of the books changes you will perceive me differently. Same content, different message.
As we start approaching the most easily perceivable parts of UX, after having solid Information Architecture, we need to think about how that content structure is going to interact with our target audience, leading to to Interaction Design.. Which component is more appropriate? Where can we innovate?
Take for example a financial product where you have no control over a user action, such as a bank transfer, as once it’s submitted, it’s out of your hands. Instead of designing a button that can be pressed accidentally, a swipe function can be used. In every step of the UX process, if we consider as many possibilities as we can, within a solid process and defined constraints, there are “gold nuggets” waiting to be found.
Finally, we get to the branding of your product, the colors and the emotions they convey to your audience, and everything else that can all be supported by your visual style. This is called Visual Design, and it’s likely the only true visible part of UX (or, at least, the most visible).
Consistency here is very key, as the visual message should promote reliability, security, and quality. You have to ask yourself, “Are you sending the right message with your visual choices?”
The Plate and Cutlery Example
Good UX design and methodology makes use of all five components, from Research to Visual Design. To get a better grasp of how this works in UX, let’s look at a known illustrative example.
Imagine you are presented with a set of cutlery and a plate. An information architect will likely come in and label everything, and an interaction designer may organize the flatware based on the order of the meal to be served. A visual designer leans more toward artistic expression, so they may arrange the cutlery and plate in an out-of-the-box way.
A UX designer will take on all of these roles, from visual designer to user researcher, and in this example would question who would use said cutlery, and what would be the food. If, for example, it’s a college student eating ramen noodles, the only thing they would need would be a spork.
UX is very process-driven, consisting of multiple convergent and divergent steps. Exploring with research, converging with the solution, taking that solution to content strategy, zooming in into all the different types of content that could be used, taking some and merging, and so on.
I personally see a UX practitioner as a messenger. As organizations unfolded and became more complex, the quality of the message across different departments diminished, creating inconsistencies, missing out on “gold nuggets” and decreasing the quality of the overall user experience. In my view, creatives, such as designers, were the first to step out and across the organization to make sure the quality of the message didn’t diminish.
If we think carefully about this, we can notice that a UX designer in essence never provides deliverables that will directly be in the product, but rather artifacts, documents, notes, and other components.
For example, wireframes are guides for the UI designers to craft and user interviews help Product owners collect user information to help define the product roadmap.
At Mobiquity, we want to provide a UX approach to our clients that is as complete as possible, so that we can help them along this daunting process. Especially when there are teams in different locations, with different mindsets and ideas.
The UX mindset shouldn’t be constrained only to UX designers. It’s a creative and exploratory mindset that every single one of us should embrace if we want to build fantastic products.
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If you are looking for a UX/UI designer job opportunity in the IT industry, come to join us at Mobiquity:)