Photograph of people drawing ideas on a table

What Is This UX Thing Anyway?

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

I presented a talk back in Oct 2019 to colleagues describing what UX is, and why I believe it should be embedded within the delivery of any solution where an end-user exists.

I thought I would share some of my talk here. I’m going to break it down into separate posts. Here’s part one... A bit of background on UX...

I like this statement:

"User Experience is the science and art of designing a product"

A quote by the Neilsen Norman Group, World Leaders in Research-Based User Experience:

"User Experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services and its products."

Don Norman presenting a talk holding a microphone.

In fact, Don Norman of the Neilsen Norman Group first coined the term ‘user-centred design’ back in the late eighties in his book ‘The Design of Everyday things’. But it wasn’t until the nineties that he was the first to call himself a ‘user experience architect’ at Apple Computers.

"I invented the term because I thought the human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual."

Why do I want to talk about UX?

Because I feel passionately that to build a product or service for an end-user, that their needs must be at the heart of every decision that is made, to deliver that solution successfully.

The UX Process

Typically when a customer comes to a designer with a problem, a lot of designers jump straight to solutions... don't do this!

Diagram showing two circles, problem in one and solution in the next.

Instead, start by identifying the problem:

  • Who has the problem?
  • What is the problem?
  • How will we solve this problem?
  • What will the solution achieve?
  • What features are required to accomplish the objective?
  • What will the product look like and how will it function?

Diagram showing four stages: persona, problem, strategy/objective/features, solution

Smart user experience design starts by identifying the problem and guiding all ideas to solve that problem.

If you take the time to properly define the persona, problem, strategy, objective and features, it will provide a more effective solution.

One of the more common processes in developing the user experience is called User-Centred Design. It is an iterative process made up of 4 steps.

User-Centred Design diagram - Context > Requirements > Design > Evaluation

Context

Try to understand the context in which users may use a solution. To do this you must perform various user research activities. These can include a combination of some of the following research activities:

  • User questionnaires;
  • Stakeholder & user interviews;
  • Ethnography;
  • Diary studies;
  • Focus groups and workshops.

Ethnography is a good one. By definition, it is the systematic study of people and cultures. In the UX world, researchers observe and/or interact with a study’s participants in their real-life environment. Activities can include observation, interviews and surveys. All of these ethnographic methods can be very valuable in helping identify and analyse unexpected issues.

A slight caveat about this context step though… A delivery team seldom establishes the context from scratch. But there’s nothing stopping them from conducting research to clarify any assumptions they might be making, or to gain a deeper understanding of a problem. 

Requirements

Requirements are the result of synthesising your user research and identifying business requirements or user goals that must be met for the solution to be successful. At this step, Stakeholder/User Needs are defined.

Some examples of requirements activities:

  • Empathy mapping;
  • Card sorting;
  • Competitor analysis;
  • User journey mapping;
  • Business process mapping.

An empathy map is a collaborative method to visualise what you know about a particular type of user.  It helps create a shared understanding of user needs, and aid in decision making.

A user journey map, however, is a way of mapping out steps in an action such as ordering a new passport. It helps identify pain points and helps map out an aspirational experience.

Design

This is where the UX team designs solutions. You approach this in stages and to varying degrees of fidelity.

Some examples of design activities:

  • Wireframing
    A very lightweight mockup of a site of app’s layout. Useful for sketching out where buttons, text blocks, logos, etc are placed. Usually presented mono-chromatically.
  • High fidelity mocks
    A more detailed representation of the final design, with styles and fonts etc applied. Gives a more realistic view. Not very interactive.
  • Prototyping
    Usually a far more realistic view of what will be the end solution, with a more interactive capability. This is achieved by using software such as Axure, or written in native code.

Evaluation

You check how well a design is performing. This is typically done by performing usability testing, either in-person, remotely or even via a method called guerrilla testing, where you ask passing people to test a feature randomly. Employ the ‘Think aloud’ technique.

Some examples of evaluation activities:

  • Usability testing;
  • Solution usage reviews;
  • Task analysis;
  • Accessibility testing.

Rinse and repeat until the solution is refined successfully.

Obviously integrating that into a fixed-price Agile project will be quite challenging, but doable with the right planning upfront. Employ a technique called Staggered Sprints, where UCD is performed in advance of a development sprint, as shown by the diagram below:

Agile Diagram showing how stages of the design process come in sprints before development.

I hope that has given you an overview of what UX is, and the processes involved.

Look out for Part 2, where I talk about the differences between UX & UI, and the benefits of UX!

The banner image is originally a photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash