Don’t just “Make it pretty”

Why User Experience (UX) is so important:

“…Fidelity is not about graphic design; it’s about importance…It’s about all the things that make software successful and transformative. By reducing the fidelity of the Graphical User Interface (GUI), you bring a lens of high-fidelity to the only thing that truly matters: user experience.” – Ben Nadel

As we continue, I am assuming you know the inherent difference between User Experience (UX) design and User Interface (UI) design. If you don’t, here is an analogy: UX is synonymous with the ingredients and type a cake and it’s contents (i.e. the baking soda, powder, flour, sugar, butter, and eggs). If your target audience is allergic to nuts…don’t make a walnut, carrot cake. UI is the presentation of the cake, like the frosting and adornments. The cake you’d make for a 5 year old boy and a 70 year old woman probably look and taste differently. 

For a better understanding of UX, here are some helpful articles:

What a prototype is, and is not

The UX of prototyping in low-fidelity

The skeptic’s guide to low-fidelity prototyping

In my last post I discussed the “Process Mistakes That Designers Make” which spoke to the designer. This post in contrast, is geared toward clients seeking a designer; Specifically for organizations looking to build user-friendly designs on a budget. There are all sorts of designers and terms associated with design used interchangeably (and sometimes incorrectly), so it is important to understand what you’ll need before you start looking.

The steps below represent a designer’s process when approaching a new project. If you do these yourself ahead of time—before you hire a designer—you’ll save project time and money. With that said, the person in charge of this pre-work should be the Product Manager (or the person responsible for the success of the tool).

Step one

Before hiring a designer, compile the following items:

Step two

Identify the most important objective of the product. Define a “critical path” (see my previous post) or objective statement that all relevant parties agree on (e.g. the critical path for a new shoe company might be: Users can easily purchase shoes from the product page).

Step three 

Here’s where you’ll need a designer.

Conduct a Sketching Session Using Design Thinking with relevant parties. This blog by designer Jason Furnell shares what goes on in a sketching session. If your organization wants to save money, have your PM or the most design-oriented person on your team read through these design-thinking exercises. The intent of all the exercises is to understand how your users or customers approach your product or service. Once you discover how it’s currently approached, the team is responsible to make that user journey as delightful and frictionless as possible.

These exercises will prepare you to speak with a designer. Your team will be able to identify important details that otherwise would have been missed. 

Design thinking: Now you are ready for a low-fidelity designer

While looking for UX designers, you should make sure they exhibit the suite of materials you’ll need. Ask if he or she has experience with user testing and how they approach a user test. You’re looking for a designer who can test without bias and generate non-leading scripts.

To clarify what that means, here’s an example of a leading UX test question when testing a “Submit” button action: “Please submit your form.”And here’s a non-leading UX test question: “Now that you have completed the form, what would you do next?” Phrasing a task that includes verbs contained within the user interface aids the user in navigation and may skew results. Keeping prompts open-ended and encourage the tester to talk you through their thought process. This will help you better understand how they perceive the tool and it’s capabilities without any help. 

A UX designer’s primary goal is to fully understand users, create the optimal experience for their critical path, and subsequently test designs without an agenda. User testing with five people is adequate; beyond that number, there is a lot of redundancy and results can plateau.

Now you are ready for a visual designer

At this point, you have tested and iterated on your low-fidelity mocks. They are comprehensive to users, but they are all gray scale. You have no brand or emotional appeal to your user. This is also a great opportunity to loop in your copywriter, marketing team, or any other branding experts so there is cohesion amongst all facets of the brand. 

It’s useful to think about the behavioral psychology behind what you are offering. Nir Eyal wrote the insightful book Hooked on how product designers use behavioral norms to build habits. What feeling do you want your users to have when using or consuming your product? How do you want your audience to talk about your brand to their friends? Products with great branding and user experience define those feelings early on and think through that lens for every customer interaction. It’s not about manipulation as much as it is giving your brand a personality that speaks to your target audience.

How to give feedback

While giving feedback you may be tempted to say, “I don’t like that.” Resist the urge! Pause, think about what in the designs is working for your target audience and what seems unclear. Try to articulate why to the designer. Your designer will produce better results with specific feedback—and love you for it! Now you’re ready to venture off into the UX/UI world. Good luck!

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