Jan. 15, 2014

You're UX, too.

How user experience design goes beyond one discipline and penetrates into all areas of project strategy.

I was coming home from my honeymoon last weekend and the customs agent asked what I did for a living.  I said I was an interaction designer (just because thats what it says on my business card) and he asked if that was a fancy word for "graphic designer".  
I told him, "Kind of, more like a fancy word for web designer, you know, stuff that's interactive" and he sort of nodded and waved me into the country as a non-threatening U.S. citizen (whew).  

In short, I code, design, push, pull and squish interfaces so people can find stuff out. I was going to say "cram", but I try not to do that. 

The goal is for people to get what they want no matter if they are looking at that high-res lightweight piece of plastic (or LCD and glass) in their pocket or poster-sized widescreen bolted to their desk.

Getting to work with a dedicated user experience person is the most welcome change I could have imagined when getting the opportunity to start doing so two years ago.

The thought that for years I was shipping out work without a real process for deciding how people were going to be interacting with the interfaces I was creating was a big forehead-smacking moment for me.

Our team's senior UX architect (fancy title; low-key, user-advocating workhorse mentality), Molly Lee, likes to tell the rest of our team that "we're UX too" when she's faced with decisions that are brought to her because her discipline is user experience design.  Everyone on the project team is making decisions that are going to affect how people are interacting with what's on the screen.

All-purpose UX

“One accurate measurement is worth more than a thousand expert opinions.”
— Grace Hopper

Here's what UX Is Not UI spells out as the skill set of a UX designer:

  • Field research

  • creation of user tests

  • face to face interviewing

  • gathering and organizing statistics

  • creating personas

  • product design

  • feature writing

  • requirement writing

  • interaction design

  • information architecture

  • usability

  • interface layout

  • visual design

  • taxonomy creation and terminology

  • copywriting

  • presenting and speaking

  • working tightly with programmers

  • brainstorm coordination

  • design culture evangelism

You'll notice that IA is included there but "wireframe monkey" is not (a common misconception of UX designers is that they just create lo-fi information architecture). It takes a lot of work and thought for something to be thought out, simple and easy-to-use. That starts with information gathering and then executing on what you've learned. A user's experience on a site is that intangible that is the difference between someone coming to your site and getting what they want or showing up and leaving empty handed.

UX strategy requires all disciplines

When there's a mentality shift and working process that caters to user-centered design, other things start to fall into place. People have needs and expectations when interacting with something. While my job might be coding or designing an interface, executing on the treasure trove of information that's uncovered during the early stages is one of my biggest responsibilities. The refined interface is the end goal but the results on that page resonate the most when information is gathered instead of supposed.

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Brian Krall

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