It was 5 years ago when I started out with the unknown field. I was clueless and the only thing I know about it was, I get to . At first, I was doubtful if this thing is for me since was introduced to me in Posters, Illustrations, Photo Manipulations, and Character creation context. But when I learned about , I found something I can level up in. I thought to myself, “Interfaces? I think I can do it”

I took off being an imposter, and still, up to now, I am (hope my boss won’t see this 😬). During my Junior designer days, my thinking process goes like this:

“I think my design is pretty good. The colors and the layout is sleek. But let me make this button have some beaming animation to look better 👌🏻

My goal back then is to beautify things and make it get a spot in the design trends of the year. But as the years go, by reading UX books, browsing numerous UX articles, poking UX designers to ask “How to be you?”, and watching videos so I can advance more in my field, I learned that UX has methodologies and processes. Thus, from a hip and trendy button, my thought processes changed into using methodologies:

“Okay, so who are my personas? I think I need fix the information architecture by doing some card sorting, then I’ll create a lo-fi after, and finally mockups. So lit 😎

I continued using methodologies and along the way, I get to discover more which I was able to use in my processes. I learned about sprints, affinity map, crazy 8s and a lot more.

But…There’s more than this.

I remember getting interviewed by hiring managers back then. I used to sell myself by enumerating the UX BIG words like Google sprint, Information Architecture, Empathy, Ideation, Empathy, Lo-fidelity, Mockups, Empathy again and Sketchapp, so that I may get the job. And it turns out, hiring managers believed my alien terms which I know they don’t even know 🤷‍

Tip: if you want to get the job, mention Empathy n times and other UX alien terms 🕶

The truth is, even though we know and practice all these UX methodologies, fill half of the whiteboard with post-its, and deliver kick-ass mockups. It won’t make us the UX Designer we call ourselves, or what I call myself. It is not about going through A-Z by using A-Z tools to provide design solutions that will solve user problems.

UX Design is about understanding user pain (not problem). Period.

Hmm, okay, but don’t you think Riel we should just not understand it but also solve it?

Yes, correct! Solving and crafting a design solution is already a part once you start off with understanding human pain (not problem). And why pain and not problem? It is because if we solve problems there are some that we can just brush off. But if we solve pain, then with all our might, we will be solving it no matter what. It is just like solving between a lost earring vs an aching tooth, with a lost earring we can let it pass and forget about it, but with an aching tooth, we will immediately head to the drugstore and buy painkillers or go to the dentist to have it checked on (see, we are already solving it 😉 )

The bottom line is, we’ve just got too obsessed with all the design methods.

Not because you have a method card, it will all make sense. There’s nothing wrong with these methods, as a matter of fact, they are very helpful. But the question is, do we know more our user’s pain than methodologies? Are we more obsessed with understanding user’s pain than designing solutions and doing methods?

UX is not about designing solutions, it is about understanding the pain and pounding on it for hours.

I looked back and realized, I was pretty obsessed with all the double diagrams, card sorting, post-its, whiteboards, triple diagrams and what not. I was too structured, which our CEO told me one time as his feedback “You are too structured Riel” and that’s when I started talking to real users rather than creating fictional personas, imagining them going through our app journey, and assuming what their pains are.

I started messaging them and got to learn more about the things we weren’t doing right like these:

Our change country flag design solution isn’t helping them. Its discoverability is just poor.
Deleting takes a long process to do.

And as a designer, hearing negative feedback about your design will hurt at times, but it also helped me to grow. I learned that I have to iterate for not all design solution will work, and so I have to go back and dig more to the pain our users have.

Thus, once you’ve caught the root cause and delivered a magic moment to them through your design, you’ll get user feedback that will make your work pay off like this one:

After solving change country flag discoverability, our user sent this to me

But that doesn’t stop there. Receiving good feedback is just an icing on top of a cake, but what makes my conversation more valuable is that when, they themselves, our users, send messages and voicing out their feedback without me asking them:

One of our users sending his experience and his suggestion
Another user, giving feedback about our payment flow for users without Singaporean bank accounts

I learned that it is not all about the method cards, but it is about caring for your users, observing, and understanding their pain — what matters the most. And that more than design solutions, it is digging to their pain, immersing yourself into it until you fully understand is what we should do.

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