Apple had Steve Jobs… UX is for the rest of us…


You can’t have it both ways. I mean, you might want to have it both ways, you might think that having it both ways, with some finagling, is possible, even though you know that one might, inevitably, cancel the other out, still you can’t have it both ways.

I’m thinking about something I used to tell clients when doing design work, web or print…  I used to tell them about the ‘wants triangle’… that’s what I called it, somebody with a PhD in economics probably came up with it, but I heard it somewhere, picked it up and made it my own. It went something like this: ‘You can have it quick, you can have it cheap, you can have it good… but you can’t have all three, you have to pick two…’

Now, my argument about wanting both is binary, whereas this equation wasn’t. In both cases, though, client/organization/boss had to make a choice. And decisions, for the majority of us upright bipeds, are things of the greatest difficulty.

So, you can’t have it both ways.

That’s the preface.

When we talk about having it both ways what we’re talking about is making the choice between choosing to adopt UX practices or not.

At this point, not adopting UX if you make websites, software, or really any product that somebody has to use, which, I guess, is almost everything from dishwashers to urinal pucks doesn’t make a lot of sense. Admittedly, safety was never a primary concern for most automobile manufacturers, and when safety standards were finally adopted, these rules had to be foisted upon automotive manufacturers; hard to imagine, now, I know, but alas, that was the case… Cars and safety belts go together like peanut butter and jelly. Similarly, the discipline of UX is kind of inseparable from the reality that users are going to use your stuff… so why not include them in the design process of the thing you’re making. Capital idea!

And yet…

You can’t have it both ways. Well, not exactly, but with maturity you can get pretty close.

I’m talking about the initial adoption and investment in UX, which does slow down the traditional process of the CEO or CMO telling you what kind of website or product they want and telling you to go and make it. The discipline of UX builds in layers that could be construed as slowing things down, but really this investment takes the risk out of something not working or being a flop when it eventually gets released or goes to market… the visionary CEO or CMO’s approach doesn’t. Admittedly, they’ll take the hit (sometimes), but it’s  a huge waste and a bummer to bet the farm on single person’s idea.

Achtung! Or, warning!, for our non-German speakers… In the cult of Steve Jobs, of which there are many supplicants, the idea of being a CEO, CMO or product person that has both business acumen and a strong vision is a very common occurrence, in some ways it feels like a plague… Business acumen, you can learn, vision, on par with Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and Steve Jobs, uhh… yeah, not so much. Is it genius? I don’t know. There was something going on with these folks, their particular epochs, their experiences and also their locations on history’s timeline, intersecting with technology, curiosity, creativity and sheer force of will… the likes of which can’t be manufactured, thus making the likelihood of running into someone like this or your CEO being one of these people very, very slim. Which brings us back to UX.

UX is for the rest of us, i.e. most of us. UX takes practice, organization and structure, that’s why it’s called a discipline. That’s what is so enduring about it. It’s not a quick shot or injection that will make everything good. It’s transformative and transformation is hard; it’s change. It’s putting the users in charge of the design instead of the CEO, CMO or chief whatever officer… where it should be.

This is what I mean when I say you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a mature UX practice and process in place without putting in the work. You can’t remove the risk of bad design without a mature UX practice.

You can’t have it both ways.

There’s no shortcut to a mature UX practice.
There’s no shortcut for good design.
There’s a symbiosis where each needs the other.

The 10 promises of user experience design


This article began with me referencing a variety of sites and other articles about user experience. I began borrowing ideas that I was going to attribute here, but as I did this, I realized that none of what I found, for me, truly captured the feelings we have at USAGE where user experience is concerned. Much has been written about UX, there’s the oft-referenced Nielsen Norman Group site, and their articles about UX, I also found a great Slideshare presentation that framed Walt Disney as the first UX designer by @josephdickerson a UX Lead at Microsoft, as well as dozens of “commandments” and rules regarding UX, but when I finally put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, as it were, I just didn’t feel like any of those truly captured the promises of UX the way that we view them here at USAGE. So, here goes — The 10 Promises of User Experience design:

1.) Know your users
Knowing your users is rule numero uno for a reason. If you don’t know your users from user interviews, personas, testing, etc… then you’re shooting in the dark. You have to cater the user experience to their usage and their needs.

2.) Focus on your users needs
Focusing on the user needs is the primary thing that one gets out of user and usage research. Understand the user, what they want, how they’re trying to accomplish tasks and what might make their lives a little easier and build that into the design.

3.) Design for the user
Like a series of building blocks, you can’t design for the user if you don’t know your users and their needs. When you know who your users are and what they need, designing for them is a cinch. Also, when you know you’re designing something that will help and serve your users it’s also very satisfying work, but that’s just a sweet little bonus!

4.) Make it seamless
So, you know your users, you know their needs and you’ve got a design that pretty much nails it on all accounts… at least until you’re given some third-party tool that must be integrated, can’t be customized and sticks out like a sore thumb. You have to make the experience as seamless as possible. You’ll note that the title of this bullet isn’t make it absolutely seamless, because that’s impossible, and, anyway, relative… the definition of seamless resides in intention… When you’re working on the user experience, put simply, you do the best you can… and that’s not always perfect.

5.) Set user expectations early on and maintain them consistently
There are many things that you can’t control, but if you set expectations early and do this consistently you can establish a positive user experience. Again, nothing’s perfect, but there are ways that allude to perfection even if you’re not able to achieve it absolutely.

6.) Don’t make users work to figure things out
This one is an allusion to the very first book we here at USAGE read on Usability, Steve Krug’s classic Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. The title of that book pretty much says it all, but I’ve added a bit of specificity to it. If something is designed well then your users won’t have to figure it out and there won’t be much of a learning curve. This could really be part of the next bullet about instructions.

7.) Keep instructions to a minimum
We here at USAGE don’t like designs that require instructions, whether it be a website, a mobile app, or IKEA furniture… Life is short, time is at a premium, we have to do the heavy lifting for users and get the design to a place where they can walk up and do what they need to do. Specifically, as human-computer interaction increases its those products that do this in the first release that will rise to the top.

8.) Measure, Test and Refine
How do you get your product to be highly usable by the first release, well, that’s where measurement, testing and refinements come in. Whether you’re in a pre-launch phase or have a website or app that’s been out there a while, you have to be measuring, testing and refining based on that research. In fact, this brings to mind one of our favorite quotes from W. Edwards Deming, the father of quality management who said: “You can’t manage, what you can’t measure.” Measurement is a key to success and testing is just another form measurement. Take all of this and use it to make refinements.

9.) Know what you’re good at and focus on that
Knowing what you’re good at when considering user experience might seem a little counter-intuitive, because of course, you want to serve your users, but just like McDonald’s doesn’t make cars, and Ford doesn’t make hamburgers, don’t try to be something you’re not. Do what you do well and hire out the rest to folks that do it better.This probably fits somewhere within creating a seamless experience, but we felt it was important enough to stand on its own. Play to your strengths.

10.) UX is iterative – Repeat steps 1-9
Wash. Rinse. Repeat. User experience design is iterative; it doesn’t end. It continues on and on for the life of a product or service. Repeat these steps and you’ll be fulfilling the promises of experience design and you’ll always be doing your best to ensure that you’re creating the best possible experience for your users. After all, perfection may be elusive, but making something better is well within reach.