Why we need to stop over-complicating UX
You’ve just finished an incredible course where the instructor has given you a huge range of tools and methodologies to put towards generating incredible experiences for you.
You’ve just attended a conference or workshop where industry experts show you how they achieved incredible results with a user centered mindset.
You’ve seen the complete range of available tools and methodologies associated with the “trendy” field of UX on sites or articles.
Whatever your situation, you feel like you suddenly have magic at your disposal and you’ve seen the proof that it works. What could go wrong?
The snowball effect
Starting out should be easy enough, the user is our number one priority, so your first thought is to focus on them? But someone mentioned we should never forget the business, so maybe you should do that first.
Ok, so business, then the user…
So the business. If I go by the list of options at my disposal, I have to talk to stakeholders, conduct workshops, do a competitor analysis, analysis of the current business model, identify the business strategy, lock down the company vision etc.
Simple enough. Now looking at identifying the user and their needs. You’re going to show them how you can create empathy with the user and really get down to their fundamental needs. In order to achieve that, you’re going to have to go full native and immerse yourself in their world…
Wait! Before you can do that, you maybe you need to identify who you want to study.
Ok, so now I know who the ideal audience is… should you focus on first finding out if your current audience fits that categorisation or should you identify what needs to be done to reach the target audience.
No worries, you just lay down a list of the user research methodologies at your disposal. You’re pretty sure they will help you discover everything, no worries.
Your list of activities now have to include user interviews, ethnographic research, demographic data, group workshops, usability test… um… we should setup some more workshops… and card sorting exercises… we have to put together user stories, personas, journey maps and user flows…
Ok ok, simple, it seems like a lot to fit in, but what’s a few months when you’re getting to really know you’re user?
…and the snowball continues
Now you have to be sure you have a lot of wire framing and card sorting again, just for good measure. Wait… post-its, I need to use more post-its… storymapping… information architecture! You’ll finally be putting those post-its to good use and showing everyone how you’re an incredible designer because… post-its.
You also have a whole bunch of exercises to start off the workshops, like tossing a lemon around the room to demonstrate how the lemons life give you can inspire you or something super clever you read in an article.
Usability testing… must test with users, so you have to have a usability lab. Camera, microphone… no, 2 cameras, one for the user, another for his device… maybe a 3rd just to be sure.
Every good lab has a viewing room, so that’s going to need cables, a big screen TV, speakers and chairs for about 5 observers, but if we can fit in 10, even better.
Devices! You need to secure lots of different devices for every testing possibility. If you’re thinking about every context, maybe you should have rooms that simulate living rooms or office spaces. Don’t forget about the software to observe and record the sessions…
You are so prepared to present your proposal. This is going to be the most incredible product anyone, anywhere has ever built! With enough time and the budget to run a small country, you’re going to revolutionise the whole industry!
The actual truth
To some, reading the above example, it might seem a bit exaggerated and I really wish it were, but unfortunately, this is the state of UX at the moment.
Many have become so focused on the process and methodologies that they’ve forgotten the fundamentals of why we started focusing on the user and what we hope to achieve with that focus.
Can we just focus on identifying what the user wishes to achieve and then focus on solving that problem in the best way possible?
Not everything, just what’s needed
Yes, a long list of techniques have been developed to help us solve the world’s problem, but in my experience, you will never you use all of them on any single project or at the same time.
UX methodologies aren’t a checklist that you need to make sure to check for the best results. If you focus on that checklist approach, guess what, while you’re checking off every single box, someone else will be building it.
The questions I like to ask before deciding on any the use of any methodology are:
- What questions do I wish to answer and why?
- Is there easier or more efficient way of aswering these questions?
- Who will benefit with this data?
A good example, are personas. Personas have gotten really bad criticism in recent years, but that’s because many professionals have been using personas incorrectly and for the wrong reasons.
If the methodology and its results are not going to inform anything or be used correctly, than that’s a clear indicator that you shouldn’t even bother. The methodologies developed are meant to bring value at different stages of production for different reasons. If not used properly, they will add more confusion and often present an unclear message for everyone… including the final user.
In recent years, I’ve seen a growing problem where UX professionals know the theory, rules and techniques so well that they easily get caught in what I call the Analysis loop.
Categorised as a professional who has done all the research, analysed the insights and reached the conclusion that more research needs to be done, which in turn generates new insights, which uncovers something that needs to be research etc. etc.
For seasoned professionals, you might easily make one of the following arguments:
- “They’re clearly not doing research rigth, because if they focused on uncovering the real underlying problem, they shouldn’t have that issue…”
- “You just have to get to a point where you start producing something and accept that in your next iterations you’ll look into that issue you’ve identified”.
But let’s be honest, when we’re first starting off, how easy is it to loose focus on the bigger picture?
The User Centred approach to creating products incentivises us to identify issues and try to look at things in a new light. On that basis the concepts “what if…” and “I believe…” can get very much out of control, if you’re not ready for it. One can easily begin to second guess every decision taken.
We also work in a fast paced environment where people want quick fixes and results, so you might feel pressured to solve a problem, any problem, as quickly as possible to show results, but then you uncover another beneath that etc. You land up being less efficient and often hold up the whole production process.
Complete research process every time
Research is fundamental for the User Centred process, but you shouldn’t focus on the complete research process every single time.
Sometresearimes, the questions you want to answer are very simple and straightforward, so a simple bit of research will help you answer it.
Other times, the research might have already been done exhaustively and you already have a lot of the information you need, all you need is to fill a few gaps.
Understanding and accepting these points will help you focus more what methodology to use and how exhaustively.
The user centred approach to product development aims to solve problems for the user while staying aligned with business strategy. We need to solve the problem that a misunderstood user centered design process has brought to the table.
We’re not designing these solutions for us, we’re designing them for the users, so it’s not about how much we show that we know every technique. It’s about how we show the outcomes of using the right methodologies the right way, at the right time.
Don’t let the process control you, take control of the process and start doing great work… for the user.