Making Machines Humane

February 05, 2018

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Manu Soman

UI/UX Designer

All aspiring UX designers imagine (so did I) that, it is going to be a fun job expressing my creativity, have an eye for cool things, and have a significant impact on other people's lives. As awesome as it sounds, isn’t as easy. There's a lot more to great UX than just designing stuff.

User experience design is relatively a new field of study. UX didn’t come into picture when we started building machines for humans. UX came into picture only when so many machines were built for humans and started sharing the market. Cause, most user-friendly machines started winning the game. And that’s why user experience design is relatively new.

This post is a list of few mistakes I made or I was part of, during my short yet meaningful struggle as a UX designer for the last 2 years and what I learned from my experience.

Let's get started.

1. Thinking that good UX refers to a good looking and customer pleasing design

Let’s start with an example,

I, as a designer, think that a palette of lighter blue and violet would give a pleasing appeal to the app, but the customer says they’re more impressed with the competitor's app which has an orange theme. And they want something similar to that. Which one option should I choose? Mine or theirs?

Well, not both.

Who are the users? What is their demographics? What kind of work are they doing? Where is this product going to be used? Would the users be able to read the content with a light blue or an orange background, as some of them could be very senior citizens without sharp vision? The right color theme slowly emerges when a UX designer starts to answer several of these questions.

Ultimately, users are the ones who benefit from the product, so should put users first, and then anyone else and grow our designs around them. The users get to judge whether the design is good or not.

2. Taking everything the customers or users say, as it is

It can be a little counter-intuitive, especially since I got ‘users’ in it. After all, we’re building something for them and they get to decide what they want, right?

Henry Ford, one of the remarkable industrial innovators of the 20th century is said to have said this,

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

 

Warning: there is no solid evidence to prove that Ford ever said it! But it conveys something relevant to what I’m trying to say, so I’m using it anyway.

Had this incident really happened, and Ford took that feedback seriously, he would probably have proceeded with inventing a steroid drug for horses which would dramatically boost their performance with minimal side-effects. But instead, he provided humanity with the iconic ‘Model T’ and the ‘Assembly Line’ way of manufacturing. So, the idea is that we should be able to pin down the actual problem from the customer’s or user’s input and solve it. From the Ford’s example, the real problem was ‘lack of faster ways of transportation’ than ‘lack of faster horses’.

3. Considering user experience design as a similar process to application development

This one is mainstream inside the project management team, but is incorrect. This tendency becomes obvious mainly through these three scenarios.

  • Estimating effort hours

  • The time required for a relatively complex screen design ‘X’ number of probable screens = User experience design effort hours

    Sounds like a sound idea. Well, not really.

  • Running design and development in parallel

  • Design UX for one user flow, hand it over to the developers and then move on to the next user flow.
    Broken UX!

  • Assigning one more designer to cut the time frame by half

  • This might work for developers but not for UX designers.
    The purpose of assigning more designers should be to increase the quality and efficiency of the product, not for cutting down time.

Development can be modularized, and divided into separate step-wise increments of tasks, whereas designing requires a holistic approach. Every interaction has to be thought out in context of all the other interactions and several other scenarios. Considering all these reasons, UX designers should be given a clear head start and more time than what is usually provided.

4. Importance of right tools for defining User experience.

I’d like to quote Henry Ford once again, and this too doesn’t have any solid evidence for the authorship.

 

"If you need a machine and don't buy it, you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don't have it."

 

For example: Photoshop is the best at what it does, which is raster graphics editing. Period. But when it comes to user experience design , Photoshop starts freezing when the number of art-boards in a file goes above 15 or 20 (it’s not a precise estimation though, as there are other factors as well that contribute to the problem, such as system configuration, design complexity, type of elements used, etc.). Even average size projects would require at least 40-50 art-boards if we are to define every user interactions. This is a clear indication that Photoshop is not the right tool for the job and would cost in terms of time and few other aspects.

There are many advanced tools available in the market, which are specifically built for user experience design which include Wireframing, Prototyping, Designing, etc. These apps are very options-rich and contribute heavily to bring the best out of designers.

5. Thinking that good user experience can be achieved in the very first shot

All significant products were evolved over time, whether digital or physical. They’ve gone through enormous amount of revisions, tinkering, and other modifications to get to where they’re today and still do. A continuous user feedback analysis and market study is required to keep the products relevant all times.

6. Copying may not work

Although it’s not a major issue, it’s worth speaking about. We humans, being contextual beings, have a lot going on in our heads. The kind of thoughts occurring to the mind when seeing a ‘Proceed to Checkout’ button and ‘Send Mail’ button are different although both of them are buttons. In the same way, copying UX from a Chinese online store to an American banking portal could be dead wrong.

Conclusion

 

"Design is not what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works"
- Steve Jobs.

 

The responsibility of UX designers is huge in the contemporary world in terms of the product, its users, and the business. And it would be undeniably so in the future as well. Therefore, it’s important to make sure, that we proceed with a clear vision and don’t forget to make our machines as humane as possible.

Kudos to the UXers!

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