Recently, I was pulled into a UI/UX meeting with a big regional bank’s internal team and IT vendor. The bank had hired a whole army of UI/UX designers to revamp both internal and client-facing systems. The senior team members were paid five-figure salaries a month and given senior vice president titles.
It was bizarre and almost illogical how they went about their UI/UX design process. Out of that meeting came a few revelations I just had to share.
Creating Imaginary Personas Instead of Asking Real Users
Why do some UX designers create imaginary “personas” to determine requirements when there are thousands of existing end users who can tell you what they want?
I’m not against using personas for brainstorming sessions if it’s difficult to survey real users. But if the actual end users are available, why wouldn’t you just go out and talk to them? Instead of having a bunch of UI/UX folks sitting in a room imagining themselves to be a 16-year-old or a 60-year-old using the app and then sticking Post-it notes all over a wall.
To make things worse, wireframes and design mock-ups are approved by managers who aren’t the end user or target audience of an app.
The proof of a pudding is in the eating.
The judge of a good UI/UX design shouldn’t be the designer, the manager, or even the CEO. It should be the user. Why else would it be called user interface and user experience?
Brainstorming Without Regard for Budget and Technical Constraints
I left that meeting wondering if the team’s projects typically lead to bad outcomes since they’re based on a bunch of designers playing out hypothetical, idealistic situations. It turns out I was right.
A few days later, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend who is also a senior vice president in the bank. He’s been with the bank for some years, and he knew the UI/UX lead I had met with. He had sat in a few meetings with her team for a revamp of one of the systems his department uses. I asked him about the outcome. He said it was a sad and regrettable affair; “a missed opportunity” were his exact words.
Why? Because after all that idealistic brainstorming, the team took the design to the developers, who said too much of it required customization work due to the platform the system sat on. In the end, the bank decided the cost was too high and went for something simpler.
So, my friend said, the chance to greatly improve a platform the bankers used frequently was missed. The result wasn’t what the end users were hoping for. All those hours spent brainstorming by the designers in their “scrum sessions” amounted to wasted time and money.
I heard about this pitfall in an Adobe conference many years ago. One of their product evangelists said that designers and developers in a web design company often end up hating each other. Designers create beautiful mock-ups in Photoshop. Clients love it and sign off. But when the coders receive it, they find the beautiful artwork and concepts difficult, or even impossible, to implement given the technical constraints. Hence they quarrel.
Wouldn’t it be easier if everyone just talked to each other from the beginning?
To be fair to designers, their final product is often more reflective of the clients’ vision than their own. But having been involved in projects big and small for years, I’ve learned how important it is to manage client expectations and involve developers in the discussion from day one to ensure the vision fits within the budget. Clients should realize that they can’t ask for the sky if their budget doesn’t cater for that… Ideals seldom come cheap!
Reducing Clutter by Rearranging Layouts and Elements
We are in the cognitive era. It’s time design caught up with technology, instead of just using clever artwork and neat layout. Science and art needs to meet… and marry.
Most designers still think very much in terms of fixed navigation menus and content layouts. It might well be the case that the basic navigation items should all be there by default. But beyond that, we should always let users customize their UI based on their own preferences. Or better still, in the case of enterprise software, we can use the login profiles to vary the UI menu according to the user’s role. In the middle of a session, A.I. can predict the next command the user is likely to need. The best mobile apps and productivity software are already doing this.
With screen devices getting smaller and smaller, the best apps and sites are also increasingly using A.I. to customize the content served to the user. Designers need to think in more dynamic terms when planning menu items and content layout. Only then can clutter be truly reduced in this information-overloaded era of ours.
Of course, none of this is easy. It requires a UI/UX designer to think like a programmer and draw like a designer. But then, with the number of jobs being replaced by algorithms, even in design, being able to do this is how you won’t lose your job to a robot.