The term “UX” gets thrown around a lot now. The uninitiated say it is just a fancy way of referring to design, whereas purists will tell you it is a way of life, a discipline to be committed to with body and soul…and a huge project budget! Linguists will just tell you that it should be “UE” anyway and that all digital people are therefore idiots.
The reality is that “UX”, or “User Experience Design” to give it the full name, is actually an approach to creating websites that tries to ensure the end product is a lot more suitable for the users. In short, the principle is to try and create something that it actually what the end user wants.
Now there are many problems with this, not least that our clients want the budget to be as small as possible and that generally their understanding of UX is that it is made up of two things:
• Interface Design
• Visual Design
UX is actually made up of a blend of a lot more things than this, some of which are:
• Research (data, interviews, focus groups, marketplace context)
• Product Design (user flow, data modelling, requirements gathering, specifications)
• User Testing
• Interaction Design
• Information Architecture
• Graphic Design
• Taxonomy and Terminology Creation
• Brainstorming and Ideas Generation
“But why are these important?” I hear clients ask. Their view is often that we can just rely on our very experienced and highly paid designers to do this, because they have taken the time to understand the business and really, at the end of the day, it just needs to look good and functionally work.
As an agency we can understand our client and their customers as well as they do. We can, and routinely do, spend a lot of time getting under the skin of our clients and this is necessary if we are to create something that meets their aims and objectives, their ideals and standards. However, what we don’t know is what their end users think, and very often they don’t know either. We assume we do, but we really don’t. And at the end of the day the most important thing to any business is that they give their customers what they want. Without doing that we are all in the dole queue next week.
UX gives us a number of techniques and approaches that we can use to gain insight into the end user. At the smaller end of the scale it is about being able to put yourself in the shoes of the end user types. Personas are created to represent these and then those personas can be used to assess that any end result delivers for them. At the other end of the spectrum data can be collected from eye tracking of prototypes and existing sites. This data can be correlated along with qualitative feedback about how a user feels about a site. Prototypes are evolved and retested until they perform well for all key personas.
We all know the saying ‘to assume is to make an ass out of you and me’. The point of UX is to make sure that we aren’t the ones with the big ears and the honking voice. It is also a fascinating process to go through and often the client learns a lot about their clientele from it.
But then there is another problem with UX, a wider one. So often the approach to UX is confined to the very talented design studio, where Information Architects work harmoniously with Graphic Designers and Business Analysts to create perfect solutions. They incorporate every aspect of their UX approach into producing a masterpiece of engineering that will no doubt go down in the annals of history as being right up there with the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s David and Breaking Bad. But then they rush across to the development suite, funfairs and ticker tape abounding, to reveal their plans to the developer rock gods, who take one look at it, scratch their head for a moment and then say “that isn’t going to work”. Smiles fade, babies cry and balloons spontaneously pop.
In many places there is a disconnect with UX. All of the design work is done upfront, flung over the wall and then the development team have to be bearers of bad news and pick up the pieces. The way it should work is that UX is involved from the very start of the process and continues through development and testing and even beyond live. The way Siteset deal with this disconnect problem is that we employ developers who can also design. We call them UX Developers and we are lucky to have some who can design just as well as they can develop. This means we can ensure that even when we do have to produce graphical designs from photoshop, we are confident they can actually be built. Because we are an agile agency we also have flexible roles and people are free to undertake peer to peer programming. So the person doing the nitty gritty UX work can sit with the UX developer and they can implement a user driven solution together.
It might sound like a cliché, but the approach we take does ensure that UX comes as standard. We build it in to every part of our process, from the first meeting to the final piece of testing. And this means that even clients with very small budgets still get some of the UX thought process as part of their solution. We produce better products because of it and our clients get more value.