'I’m so pleased you said that, because UX is everywhere – it starts at the terminal and ends with the customer'.
Sounds like a quote from a user-experience guru, right? In reality, this was a comment from my CTO when I pointed out the need for greater UX participation within our projects.
His response confirmed the belief I have that even the most technical of projects requires a user-centric approach as there is always a user at the end of the keyboard or device.
As senior UX strategist at Inviqa I am constantly looking for areas within our projects where usability has been overlooked – and where it can help the target audience, my colleagues, and our clients.
Some successful tried-and-tested ways of communicating these include:
- Highlighting potential functionality pitfalls at the beginning of the project. This can help our project managers explore other possibilities before we invest time estimating the wrong features.
- Producing interactive wireframes at the beginning of the project. This should be based on the client and business analyst’s input and can help us test functionality and streamline features to provide developers with an accurate prototype prior to the build.
- Presenting conceptual designs and style guides early to the client. This can give a greater idea of what the the final outcome will be, and can help them engage with their project sponsors on a more visual level.
To achieve project success, UX practitioners must establish good communication about the design process with business stakeholders, guiding them towards a unified, elegant digital solution.
Throughout this communication strain of a project I often encounter two main requirements from clients and colleagues during a project discovery and build.
These are the need to adhere to ‘best practice’ and ‘intuition’.
As useful as it is to have stakeholders involved in a project with these kind of mindsets, it can also be a hinderance. The truth is: neither ‘best practice’ or ‘intuition’ can really exist as a specific benchmark. The expressions are just too ambiguous.
In the world of application and software development, ‘best practice’ is a moving target that’s at the mercy of ever-evolving technology. Screen sizes, network speeds, and integrated appliances are constantly moving the goalposts for what determines the success and failure of a user-friendly application.
It’s a landscape that simply can’t be summed up with one expression and as soon as you address something as ‘best practice’, by the time you reach it, it will have already moved on.
A more realistic assessment of ‘best practice’ to guide us in a project would be this: ‘our industry is driven by technology we constantly have to understand and relate to’.
But that isn’t as catchy, of course.
The same could be said of ‘intuition’. Of course we want our products to be as useable as possible, but even the most basic application requires knowledge of swiping, pinching, right- and left-clicking etc. We didn’t emerge into this world clutching a mobile device – we had to learn it somewhere along the way. By definition, that isn’t intuition.
Again, benchmarking ‘intuition’ based on what we already know becomes an impossible target.
A more accurate assessment of intuition is: ‘our industry is driven by a human nature that we continually need to understand and make allowances for’. Once again, this simply isn’t as catchy so we try and soundbite it for prestige.
So we know that good, user-friendly applications are based around two areas: technology and human nature. If we understand the changing landscapes of both factors we can better prepare for where they both meet.
This isn’t big news. These two factors have been at the heart of (what we now phrase as) user experience and have defined the way we use almost any communicative resource for 1000s of years. They can be found everywhere we look.
UX has always existed. Since humans started creating stone tools, we've found ways to improve and share our knowledge.
A useful book that clearly explains how the merits of everyday technology can meet the fundamental needs of human nature is Giles Colborne’s ‘Simple and Usable’ which offers an extremely comprehensive look into interaction design – a topic that can be so ambiguous at times.
Colborne illustrates that by looking to other areas outside of our industry we can learn what is simple and usable and apply it to our industry.
With this in mind, below are five everyday examples of where we can look to find commonplace UX inspiration that delivers on the principles of human nature and technology:
- Newspapers. Newspaper production pushed and evolved technology to deliver content to the masses affordably and quickly. Ensure the delivery of your content is accessible, accurate, and that it can easily be understood by way of adapting to changing technology and increased expectancies from a demanding society.
- Elevators. Elevators rely on lighting and sounds to let the user know the lift has been called and numbers tell them the status and when it will arrive at their floor. Keep your users informed. Let them know an action has occurred and what the progress is so they know what to expect and when to expect it.
- Road signs. Road signs rely on conveying information quickly. They only use a few colours and typographic treatments that are easily scannable, responding to the speed of cars passing by. When considering the call-to-action colours and labelling for your website, don't overload it. Keep it simple to convey your message quickly and clearly to the user.
- Communal parks. Communal parks will often be found with worn pathways and unloved areas. Plan for diverse user behaviour in your build but don’t over prescribe journeys for your it. It’s better to work with what you know, plan around it, and leave flexibility in your design to work with user feedback after launching.
- Calculators. The next time you use your calculator, take a look at the interface and the grouping of the keys. Conveniently organising features according to their commonalities and having a hierarchical positioning makes for a more logical experience for the user for them to find what they are looking for quicker.
So what can we learn from these examples?
That the basic drivers behind effective UX, such as human nature and technology, don’t ‘belong’ to an industry. They are simply logical elements that we need to consider when creating our applications – it just so happens that we have adopted them and created the industry expression ‘user experience’.
By casting our attention to everyday objects and situations we can discover what truly stimulates users and makes for an easier life via advancing technology.
After all, UX transcends what is shown on our screens and devices, so we can take inspiration from the world around us to help make truly user-focussed applications. Because UX is everywhere.