The human brain, with its immense potential, does not stop to amaze me with its power of continuous self doubt.
“People ask me what you do at work…I’m not sure I’m telling them the right thing though” – My mom.
I used to get slightly annoyed when she asked the same thing about my University projects, internships, or conferences; now I always burst into laughter.
I’m sure this happens to people all around the world.
I’m more sure that it happens to 90% of UX designers. Design (done properly) is a complicated matter, with unique solutions and paths, each leading to new knowledge or to strengthening existing one. It is this uniqueness, found in each process, that makes me doubt my actions.
Considering current vs. future users
This is when the beauty of having an incredibly diverse jobs comes into play. You can work in a new start-up, focusing on new users only, or start in a corporation that must retain loyal, money bringing customers as well. I have yet failed to find a good way of easily considering both type of users in the design of a new feature. Sooner or later, a compromise is made (in my young experience depending on the side that will bring in more money). One rule I do try to follow is the classic “innocent until proven guilty”, for interfaces though. If something works and does not present issues to new users it should not be changed for the sake of trends and competition. Do not doubt people’s ability of finding their way around a screen. Our minds were able to map interactions long before the hamburger menu was born. We should try to stop or reflect upon our constant urge of creating new content just because we see people doing that all the time. In addition, please stop using the boring argument that “we are aiming at millennials mostly”, there is a great value is analyzing the way things are done by types of people as well.
Pleasing everyone with a new product or feature
Maybe it’s because I have only been working for a few years, but I do still dislike the feeling that some will not be pleased with the product/feature the team is working on. It is physically impossible, yet I cannot stop the need of having every single decision, addition or change backed by real data. Even at that point, I do think of those edge, extreme cases in which a specific person used the product in a delightfully unexpected manner (which are usually quickly dismissed by a manager). Theoretically always going back to user data should be great, practically it becomes exhausting for you and the team implementing the product. The difficulty does not only come from connecting all the dots, ensuring everything adds value to users, its in constantly arguing with people following the KISS (keep it simple stupid, which I dislike,a lot). Perhaps we (or I) should not only count every low rating and negative feedback and focus on the majority of positives as well.
Is it too late to change something?
It was the second month in which developers started working on different components of the interface we gradually handed over. I was still running tests around a few interactions they implemented, but I was confident enough that the results would be positive…they were not. It all seems funny now, it was however, a tragedy in my mind at that moment — Do I go and tell them that something they’ve worked on for quite a while must be changed, because I was impatient? or do I pretend I didn’t know about all this and implement it in the next version, magically having a solution? I did go to the most senior developer’s desk and presented the issue. The news that major changes were needed were not taken lightly, in the beginning. I was relived though and learned two things: 1. Never be afraid to present the need of change, when there is enough user data to back it up, even when you were initially wrong
2. We are building software, not crafting statues out of marble, forcing artists to be careful at every single carving motion. If we do not embrace the full advantage of iteration in software creation, we might as well stop pretending to be Agile Design Thinkers.
Did I ask enough questions in interviews and studies?
The theory says that you should end an interview when you stop learning new things, or keep hearing the same ones. Well, that’s fine and it does work in some cases, it does not however ensure that you are asking the right questions or the right amount of questions. I am quite certain that you had this thought as well: “..I should’ve asked about this and that too..”. Unfortunately, as designers and researchers we cannot pause an interview mid-way to reflect for a hours and then later come back with more focused questions. The important thing here is to never assume what users would have said. Better let that topic uncovered and conduct a few more follow-up interviews, even sent as questions in an email (if the context allows it) to clarify those. The alternative is basically lying and creating a dishonest product to some degree.
Going with the standard or innovating?
There is a delicate balance around using standards and everybody’s desire to innovate with their product. I’ll skip the theory around the power of standardization in interactions and interfaces (take a look at this interesting one). I have witnessed several small start-ups and development teams that I worked with as a freelancer, quickly dropping all the designs we created together in weeks and switching to the Google Material templates in a few hours. The power of a template that can be immediately used, implemented and launched is simply too attractive to some, blinded by the notion that everybody else shares the same passion for their product as themselves. I have faced the same decision once, which affected a corporate design system’s direction; After days of thinking and discussions with several stakeholders we did decide to let go of our baby and shift towards a customized template. I do believe that was the right decision in the end, as I realized that my focus shifted from spending too much time on the UI details towards making sure that users can accomplish their tasks and goals, through that UI.
Innovation, as design, must be honest, otherwise it will simply be yet another variation of something somebody else created. I believe the answer could be: use the standards until they won’t fit your users need, then you can start innovating.
Bonus: Are these things aligned?
You might know that illustration with designers tilting their head on one side to get a slightly different angle on their work. Consciously or not, it does happen and especially after spending several hours in front of a screen, I start questioning basic things (that’s my cue for a break). It usually starts with things not seeming to be aligned (really cool article), or colors with the same HEX and background element appearing different.
Take a break and refresh your mind as well.