Inside the Mind of a UX Designer
Quite often, people think of user experience (UX) simply in terms of the end product, (i.e., the page layout, the buttons, the labels, etc.—essentially, the elements you see onscreen). However, as UX designers, we often view our role in the UX process similar to that of a building architect.
Much like the way an architect designs a building, UX designers lay out the way a webpage looks and how it all works together. This metaphor can be applied in many ways, but this comparison falls short in terms of representing the breadth of responsibilities currently expected of this role. Over the years, the field of UX and the scope of this role has expanded throughout organizations. Additionally, this view doesn’t help to explain how we as designers work or the goals we are seeking to meet.
As we navigate our way throughout the design process, our mindsets shift through a series of different stages. To help people outside the field better understand our goals, challenges and the way we think, there are several parallels that can be made to help put it all in perspective.
In the initial phase of development, we think like detectives. We’re in discovery mode, investigating and identifying new opportunities with the goal of solving users’ problems and/or enhancing their lives in some way. We’re focused on gathering as much information as possible so we truly understand our users’ needs rather than jumping to conclusions.
In this phase, we seek to learn rather than make suggestions or get feedback on specific ideas. We’re looking for a spark, a clue that will lead us down the path to developing a useful, delightful solution.
Much like a detective, we use techniques such as interviewing and observation. And, we rely on competitive reviews and pull data from third-party research to paint a well-rounded picture.
As the view of our users’ real-world pains come into focus, our mindset begins to switch to that of a scientist. At this point, like scientists, we have a strong curiosity for reality and what is possible. We develop concepts for the digital product that we believe will solve our users’ goals and/or problems.
Our designs are similar to a scientist’s hypothesis: It’s merely an educated guess that needs to be tested. Through a series of experiments, we evaluate whether the experience we created is logical, easy to use and understand, just like a scientist.
In our case, we do this by sharing our designs with users and strive to keep bias and influence out of our experiments so we get the most relevant and actionable feedback as possible. Then, we analyze the results and draw conclusions about the aspects of our design hypothesis that are and aren’t working, and make adjustments accordingly. In many cases, depending on the complexity and priority of the project, we may need to conduct multiple rounds of “experiments” (i.e., user tests).
Once our designs have been properly vetted and validated, the artist in us can then come to life to make it visually appealing and engaging. At this point, we’re concerned with color, composition and overall aesthetics with a keen eye focused on ensuring consistency across the experience.
We also want to ensure the end product accurately reflects our brand while grabbing users’ attention and interest. Like an artist, we make bold choices and attempt to create something that has never been done before. As with many things in life, the convergence of art and science can often result in unexpected results that are more compelling.
“Art is science made clear.”
—Wilson Mizner, Writer, Entrepreneur
In parallel to thinking like an artist, we’re also thinking through all the minute details of the experience we’ve created. Like an accountant, we’re thorough, precise and systematic. By this point, we’re making sure all our i’s are dotted and our t’s are crossed by auditing the experience to ensure we’ve accounted for each scenario and handled it in the most user-friendly way.
We also look for potential errors that users could encounter and include recovery paths. We employ methods that an accountant might use to document our work, but instead of spreadsheets we use wireframes, prototypes, user flows and site maps.
Like an accountant tracks and monitors business targets through reporting, we also look to track and monitor our progress once the designs are built and available to users. We use analytics tools to gather key metrics and generate reports to analyze whether we are indeed solving the needs of our users. We may also do additional user testing to get qualitative feedback on the end product. Combined, these methods often lead to recommendations for improvement or new problems to solve.
A successful design process incorporates a mix of curiosity, humility, patience and confidence in execution. Ultimately, our goal is to provide our customers and users with an experience that solves their problems and is simple to use.