Biggest Lessons Learned From Experience Design Experts
Designers are always looking to expand their knowledge so we’ve asked user experience design experts from Spotify, EA Dice, and independent consulting firm Ubiquitous Interactions, to reflect on some of their biggest career learnings. From going back to basics to applying UX techniques to your own life, they shared their most important findings and inspirations. Here’s what they had to say.
Users always come before innovation
As part of Spotify’s UX team, I have learned how important it is to understand and design for your own audience, even if that means ignoring emerging UI trends. I remember I was working on a financial app for the emerging middle class in developing countries like Kenya and the Philippines. Most of our users relied on phones with low memory capacity and pay-as-you-go cellular data. With that in mind, we had to design new features with the goals of speed, efficiency, and simplicity above all else. We didn’t have the liberty to test trending UI interactions or add nice-to-have features. While you may think these constraints would lead to a poorer design, they forced us to focus on what’s important to substantially improve our users’ experiences.
In this day and age, it’s easy to stay up to date on what’s new in the industry and consume bite-size UX tips and tricks. What’s difficult is to put the time and effort in to understand your own product, design, and consumer. There’s no replacement for going out in the field and talking to users to understand who they are, what they want, and how they use your product. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut for the time that needs to be spent to prototype your work and test it with real people for insights. But there’s also no substitute for the value you’ll receive in exchange for your efforts.
For us, this became apparent in even the smallest interactions. We launched a mobile survey on a popular survey platform that auto-scrolls through questions as they’re answered in a single page. With high hopes for our innovative survey methodology, we set off to usability test in people’s homes in Nairobi. The result was a disaster. An entire page of survey questions took too long to load, would reload when inevitably interrupted by a phone call, and resulted in all answers being lost if there were any problems with final submission. We abandoned the tool and launched our survey on SMS instead. It required very little design or innovation, but it worked, and ultimately that was all that mattered.
Golli Hashemian, user researcher at Spotify
Better living through UX
As experience design professionals, it is our duty to observe and make note of our surroundings. Documenting life’s daily interactions and experiences can lead to a wealth of human empathy and understanding. Obviously the more we understand people’s daily routines, the more we will better design for them.
One would think that it would become second nature for the designer/researcher to apply the aforementioned lens on themselves with the same regularity and scrutiny. That the same nuances of the human condition that s/he absorbs from these regular, daily observations would also self-apply. That the lauded UX discovery technique, zooming in/zooming out, would apply with ease.
I speak from experience when I state that it is a lot easier to Zoom Out and observe one’s own interactions and experiences with constructive impartiality than it is to Zoom In and observe one’s own internal planning and decision making with the same.
So, this brings us to our question — what has been my biggest experience design lesson in my career?
Answer: How valuable our process is in our personal lives, not just in our product work!
I left my position to pursue a life of freelance consulting at the beach. I moved my family with only our long-term quality of life in mind, not stopping to consider all of the inner-workings and consequences at play in this decision. While this was definitely a stress-free and relaxing time, the long-term viability needed to be rethought. I quickly learned that one can and should apply UX Discovery and Framing techniques to all areas of significant change in one’s life.
As experience design professionals, we would never steer a client into a solution without a solid foundation of research into the problem statement. Therefore, I proclaim that as UX individuals, we should never steer ourselves into a solution without a solid foundation of research into our own problem statement(s). Affect change in baby steps and don’t forget to iterate! After all, once you “ship” the MVP version of your life, why stop?
Michael Allenberg, principal consultant/user experience lead, Ubiquitous Interactions
Build trust among your team to become a UX ambassador
The thing that has had the biggest impact on me during my experience design career is the importance of creating trust within my team and organization. In game development, we often walk a thin line between creating challenges for our players while making sure they are not overwhelmed or frustrated where we do not want them to be, and you do not want your team feeling like UX exists solely to “over-simplify” the product.
The worst thing that can happen is that designers or product owners create entire designs and then come to you at the very late stages to “apply UX” to what is in their mind already completed solutions, but it is something almost every experience design professional will face. Only through building strong relationships and empowering other designers with the tools and processes that helps them design with users in mind can you grow the UX maturity of your team.
I have started to spend large parts of our projects now sitting down with people across the team to discuss how we together can create the best possible UX for their system or feature, and how it best fits into the holistic experience that users will have with our product. Once designers across the team start actively reaching out and including you early on in the process, you’ve reached a good place where you can act as a UX ambassador and make some really positive impact.
Erik Ortman, UX designer, EA DICE