UX Design is dead. Long live UX Design.
I recently read an interview with a UX designer in .net magazine. The article’s opening line was a quote from the designer… ‘I designed the website with the user in mind’.
I stopped reading.
As opposed to what?! I thought. Who would design a website not thinking about the user? Surely every design starts with the user. After all, that’s why designers are employed, right?
Maybe I was a little harsh but the question still stands; if you are not designing with the user in mind, who are you designing for? There are some platforms built for the purpose of data information or click bait websites (where literally no thought has gone into the design) but most websites are built for humans. This is why the internet was invented after all – for people to share information with each other and like all good pieces of information architecture, websites should be built with purpose and reason.
The origin of UX Design
The title UX designer has been banded about liberally over the last few years. The term was professionally used for the first time by Don Norman in 1995, when he was hired by Apple to help with its line of ‘human-centred’ products. Don Norman was an electrical engineer and cognitive scientist but upon taking the role at Apple, he asked for the title ‘User Experience Architect’.
Since then, the term user experience has become synonymous with humans interacting with technology, especially digital platforms like websites, apps, etc. However, UX has always existed. Since humans started creating stone tools, we’ve found ways to improve and share our knowledge. This can only be done with user interaction and user experience.
Everything we use in the modern world was created and ‘designed’ with a purpose, originating from another human beings thoughts. That’s how an idea is born.
The purpose behind the design
The chair you are sat in right now was designed with the user in mind. It was designed at a certain height, at a certain angle, a certain material, a certain colour. Whether this is a good chair or a bad chair is subjective but its very conception was to make a user more comfortable.
You may be thinking, ‘yeah, but it’s just a chair. What’s that got to do with user experience?’ Three words… Long. Haul. Flight.
User experience is at play in many ways in a chair. Especially a chair on a long haul flight. Ergonomics, behavioural, psychology. The difference between first class and Cattle economy, leaves a distinct impression on a person.
If you’ve ever had a good or bad experience on a flight, I bet the seat played a part. I also bet you told your friends and family about the horrible, cramped leg space you had on the nine hour flight from Florida or the amazing reclining seat you had on your business trip to Hong Kong.
Good or bad user experience is contagious. If you have a good experience then you’ll return. Likewise, a bad experience will drive you away. This is why airlines spend so much money on customer retention, always looking to improve their service and make their experience the best.
Why optimisation helps UX Designers get back to their roots
Enough about seats on airliners. What about something a little more complex, like a website? In the infinite digital space that the internet offers, how do UX designers create a first class experience?
At PRWD we use a variety of methods to help create that first class experience. To optimise a site (or redesign it), we use analytics data (from a tool like GA) and conduct research with actual users to weed out roadblocks and potential pain points in the user’s journey. This is where moderated user research comes into its own, as we can see a diverse range of people navigating a website and highlighting issues which could potentially be overseen by technically adept people (such as different generations).
The results from this research are then fed into our A/B tests which create a first class user experience in a cyclical process that ensures that the user is at the core of any change. It is crazy to think that 80% of CEO’s believe they deliver a superior customer experience when the reality is only 8% of customers agree.* This kind of blinkered view of user experience is severely hampering many business’s revenue and the business that considers the user’s experience will undoubtedly be taking market share.
Coming from a graphic design background, I have learnt to solve problems, ask questions but most importantly, never make a mark without reason or purpose. If you do, you could end up being part of the above statistic; a business with a site that may look the part but one that ultimately fails to achieve its goal, due to its inability to accommodate the user. If you’re thinking of redesigning your website, you should take a user-centred approach.
If you can optimise your website to create a wonderful online experience that excites and delights your user, then the lessons learnt can be used in the physical world too. Optimisation Strategist Emma Travis has written a piece discussing how to apply an optimisation process to the offline world which explores this idea more. After all, isn’t an Interior Designer just a UX designer for the real world?
This leads to bigger questions like what happens in the future with the rise of ubiquitous computing? A future where websites are no longer confined to a browser on a laptop, but digital content will appear on your TV, fridge freezer and in your home. UX design will become more important than ever.
So is ‘UX design’ real? Yes and no, because it’s just a title. UX design is simply label that has been attributed to our current relationship with technology.
All that really matters is that what ever is being created, for what ever device it’s used on in the future, it is ‘designed’ with reason and purpose. But maybe logical design or intelligent design will be more fitting title.
UX design is dead. Long live UX design.
*Harvard Business Review