Proficiency in a dozen digital design tools and delivering pixel perfect designs are some of the basic expectations of a job provider from a user experience (UX) designer which I usually come across. The question is, whether a user interface (UI) design is something a UX designer is responsible for and if so, to what extent? It is clear that many people still confuse designing an entire experience and designing the visual interface of a digital product different areas of expertise. UX design leader, Schwartz (2017, p.12) states “Experience design is concerned with developing a holistic understanding of the relationship between a person and product over time, meeting needs and exceeding expectations in ways which users perceive as valuable, effortless, and emotionally satisfying.” In other words, an experience designer identifies the challenges which users face and translates complex systems into tangible, simple concepts by considering the entire process of acquiring and integrating a product, including aspects of user research, prototyping, designing, usability and function (interaction-design, 2016). Therefore, designing the entire experience is not the same thing as designing the pixel perfect visuals, which is often done by a product, UI, or visual designer.
UX designers often visualize the ideas in the form of human-centered concepts and/or prototypes, expressing the user needs based on qualitative and quantitative research. The concepts or prototypes can be anything from paper drawings (low-fidelity) to something interactive or tangible which give an impression of the final product (high-fidelity). If UX is about clarity and a meaningful experience then you may wonder what the main ingredients are in order to get there? What makes a great UX design? Designing a seamless experience requires many factors to be considered including a comprehensive understanding of the brief/problem, and uniqueness of the research. Learning a lot about stakeholders and the industry through extensive research help teams to identify the important issues. Research is, therefore, the backbone of UX design since the product or service is meant to meet the needs of users based on the real issues and not just on the assumptions.
“Great research breeds great design. Design researchers dream up new ways to spark and distill insight.” IDEO
Bell (2009), former director of the User Experience Group within Intel Corporation, suggests that to be successful in contextual research, the approach has to be relevant, and to be relevant, the environment, conditions, culture, and the habits of people must be considered, so we can see the world through their eyes and therefore understand them better. Using design thinking and design research methods will boost the creativity and lead experience designers towards an unorthodox path which unlock new perspectives and therefore help them find the right solutions.
Ultimately, when devising the final solution, it is fundamental that stakeholders are considered based on ethical grounds as the design of the digital or tangible applications can easily mislead users. Experience designers are responsible for the consequences and therefore play a crucial role in maintaining ethical considerations of both user, the experience, and the design itself, as the design will affect the way the user perceives the experience (Jensen and Vistisen, 2013).
From client brief to final delivery, there are certain steps that can be followed to ease the design process. A design process model such as “double diamond” is a very useful map helping designers to move forward on the right path. Double diamond was developed by an in-house research team at the Design Council in 2005 and has four distinct phases which were identified as: discovery, problem definition, development and delivery. The divergent and convergent phases of each diamond cover the entire journey of an innovative product development process by guiding the design thinker through each of these stages (Design Council, 2015).
Following the design process simplifies the journey and offers diverse ideas based on the root of problems and needs. As a result, these ideas can transform into meaningful products and services. The impact of design thinking is often questioned whether it is effective or not, even designers can be in conflict with the approach so, in order to understand its strength, it has to be studied and practised. There is a potential knowledge advancement during the design thinking process and this affects the scale of effectiveness and quality of the results. Achievement and performance levels can, therefore, be increased by investing more time in practise and application which broaden the limits of design thinking (Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer, 1993). When research and ideation are not sufficient, the solutions are then sought through the limited options. A regular designer has the potential to solve complex engineering or technical problems using design thinking and design research techniques (Katz, 2015). Design research, therefore allows experience designers to participate and observe simultaneously in a contextual space. By observing the context and including different factors in the field, a designer can gain a first-hand understanding of different problems, thus gaining different perspectives regardless of the complexity (The Atlantic, 2011). It is important to understand the dynamics and the complex factors involved and therefore cannot be reduced to one method of data collection reliant solely on statistical analysis. As Wang stated in her TED talk (2018, 00:08:17),
“relying on big data alone increases the chance that we will miss something while giving us this illusion that we already know everything.”
So, all in all, it is important for UX designers to remember three secret ingredients when designing an experience;
1. Use a design process model to keep on track
2. Truly understand people’s needs and preferences and make them part of the design process
3. Consider the ethical consequences for the sake of stakeholders, users and for a better world