In 2015, quite a few UX designers began to complain that “everything looks the same.” This is likely true, but it’s also likely a really good thing. In the maturing of any toolset, digital or physical, standards of interaction are likely to appear. Whether we are talking about hammers, bicycles, or doorknobs, commonality of interaction reduces the amount of energy users need to expend to achieve their desired outcomes. Are you ready to stop reinventing the wheel?
We may actually be reaching a point in the lifecycle of online interactions where visual digital interaction models are standardizing around their lowest-energy states. Over the past 20 years, UX users and designers have learned once again what meatspace industrial designers have known for centuries: form follows function, and, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In other words, we have all (for the most part) stopped getting between users and their goals with potentially confusing animations, simulated 3D, and image-based menus.
We are at a point where visual innovation at the expense of user understanding should be, and is, happening less and less. We are collectively embracing the proliferation of standard design patterns for common behaviors (imagine if someone introduced a new style of electrical outlet). We are stripping away artifice for the sake of clarity. We are tossing aside “slick” for “useful.”
How to Design Deeper than Skin Deep.
In the early years, UX projects started with visual design based mostly on priori assumptions about user needs and delivered in layered Photoshop files. The visual look and feel was sold to the client, and then handed to the developers to cut up and build. But a truly user-centric design should have a truly user-centric development process. Here’s an overly simplistic outline of what that should look like today:
Set a Goal.
If you don’t have an explicit goal, there’s no reason to undertake a UX project. It costs too much and requires too many resources. Defining the goal is always the first step. But the second, harder step is getting enterprise-wide agreement on that chosen goal. If you can, proceed. If you can’t (as they say in Monopoly) do not pass “Go” and you lose a turn.
Do the Research.
Whatever the level of knowledge any organization has about its users, ongoing research assures that knowledge is up-to-date. You must know what your users want and what the business wants—and the priorities of both.
Design the Functionality.
Ironically, perhaps the best way to handle this stage of the design process is to turn off the computers and devices, and start sketching user flows and sticking post-its to the walls. Bring your stakeholders together and hash out what steps each goal requires and how they interrelate. Only then should prototypes (functional or static) be designed and readied for testing.
The only way to know if you are designing something truly useful for your users is to put it in front of them and test it. Before you do, know exactly what you want to measure in the testing and create a plan.
Iterate Until You’re Confident.
Take your learnings from the process so far and perform an accelerated repeat of the process from step one. Address what you learned in your testing, review your goals, tweak the functionality, redesign it, and test it again. Do you have to perfect everything? Not necessarily. But you do have to address those glaring roadblocks to users’ achieving their goals, or risk losing those users to a competitor.
The short way is the long way.
Creating a bad (or simply disappointing) UX can be an incredibly costly error for any business. Implementing a process that incorporates user needs and feedback may seem to take longer and require more resources, but we have found that it is generally cheaper to iterate and test rough ideas than to rebuild an already launched project.
Google Material Design Guidelines
The UX Book
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Since 1985, Magnani Continuum Marketing has made it easier for organizations selling in highly technical and complex markets to deliver the most effective and seamless traditional and digital brand experiences. We’re more digital than your advertising agency. More strategic than your digital marketing shop. More creative than your management consultants. And a heck of a lot easier to work with than almost all of them.
Image Credit: Gabriel Rojas Hruska