Why am I writing this?
Like most designers working in the digital realm today, usability (UI/UX) are what I live and breathe, day in, day out. They’re important. They’re the backbone of what may ultimately dictate success or failure for so many up-and-coming products and businesses. They are very real things, worthy of real discussion and debate.
They’re so important in fact, that many design schools across the globe are now offering UI/UX degrees in lieu of tradition design/communication majors, and professional rosters at most digital agencies now include spots for “UI Designers,” or “Director of UX” — positions dedicated solely to addressing this new discipline.
But just because there’s a lot to know, doesn’t mean that usability principles should be reserved for a highly specialized few. UI and UX are important concepts for all marketers, leaders, and business owners to understand.
“What makes people passionate, pure and simple, is great experiences. If they have great experience with your service, they’re going to be passionate about your brand, they’re going to be committed to it.”
— Jesse James Garrett, Human experience designer, Author of The Elements of User Experience
UX BS: Breaking the Cycle
More Inclusion Means More Value and Better Results
For those who don’t work in the world of digital design or product design, UI and UX can be somewhat nebulous terms that don’t really have any concrete distinction. As a Design Director, I’ve see those (and many other) terms overused and abused daily, swapped out interchangeably, and cited ad nauseam to justify every arbitrary decision by all parties.
At this rate, UI/UX may be on track to become just another set of buzz terms in an already crowded sea of business jargon. I sincerely hope that’s not the case, and the way to keep if from happening is more education.
The true value in usability principles is not only that experts understand and employ them, but that they also know how to effectively communicate their value to non-design, non-technical people. That means more direct engagement between designers and non-designers, as well as designers and clients.
When designers get a new product or web design project, they shouldn’t just wrestle the project off the other internal stakeholders and set forth on their standard design processes, (research, IA, wireframing, etc.,) behind the opaque wall of “design” and then spit out a deliverable on the other end.
Instead, they should invite the other stakeholders (including the client) along for the ride. That doesn’t mean having outsiders participate in every minute task, but rather, educating upfront about the process itself and the value behind it, and then pulling stakeholders in at key predetermined milestones to review progress and take specific feedback.
The true value in usability principles is not only that experts understand and employ them, but that they also know how to effectively communicate their value to non-design, non-technical people.
The Design Sprint process is an attempt to do this precise thing, but on a micro level and on steroids. It does a great job of bringing together key stakeholders and subject matter experts in a time-boxed environment to solve a very specific problem, many of which are UX-related.
But why not apply that same logic to day-to-day project workflows? It doesn’t have to mean slowing down all projects with unnecessary bureaucracy through the addition of countless stakeholder reviews. It can be a simple of mindfully setting steps and procedures to show outsiders a a glimpse at your process and results.
The benefit here is twofold.
Looping in outsiders allows them to better understand the process and results of UX methodologies and communicate that process both inside and outside your org. This helps cut down on the misconceptions and oversimplification of the design process and, overtime, helps you do your job with less hurdles.
Secondly, involving others gives them a stake in what you do. They understand more and therefore, they care more. The strategic side of design is allowed to shine through, and therefore more value is placed on the design process and results than before by outsiders (including clients.)
Some possibilities include:
Why not set a “UX Kickoff Call” at the onset of a new project to educate the client upfront about what user research is and why it’s fundamental to project success? The client now has a much clearer understanding of what they’re buying at this stage in the process and why, and also has an opportunity to see “behind the scenes” which is just cool.
Or you could set a weekly status update on your projects to show your CMO (and marketing team) how all of the sketching from the previous week has yielded a beautiful interaction flow for the new feature? The marketing team now has much more than just an abstract notion of what you do, and can communicate that value in new promotional and educational materials with greater accuracy.
These are just a few examples, but the benefits are clear.
Cracking the code
A Simple Guide to Usability for Non-Designers
Below is my brief UI and UX introductory guide created for everyone. That means succinct and simple definitions and distinctions. Bear in mind that these are my own definitions, so it’s possible that some aspects may be subject to challenge or debate, but the end goal here high-level simplicity for understanding the core concepts.
User Interface (UI):
This is the micro. It refers to the individual layout, interactive elements, and design decisions made on a case-by-case basis to visually and intuitively guide a user through a product, application, or set of intended behaviors. This encompasses all user interface (UI) elements and what we know user behavior and established usability conventions and strategy.
Common factors considered with UI include: content layout decisions and the specific ordering of items, button size and placement, end-user demographics and psychology, visual contrast, navigation structure, conversion tactics, accessibility, and more. When we’re tinkering with the individual components of a website or web app layout and design, we’re creating the UI.
User Experience (UX):
This is the macro, the sum of the parts, which encompasses all aspects of the user’s interaction and reaction to the experience as a whole.
At a high level, how do you want the user to regard the company and its services or products as a result of the overall experience?
What feelings or actions is the experience ultimately intended to evoke? Is the user supposed to walk away with a sense of accomplishment and completion, or are you trying to create a desire to learn more? Perhaps they should be delighted by your charm or impressed by your sophistication. The end goals can be multi-faceted and complex, but we’re talking about the larger experience and value that the user gets from the overall engagement.
“Just because there’s a lot to know, doesn’t mean that usability principles should be reserved for a highly specialized few. UI and UX are important concepts for all marketers, leaders, and business owners to understand. “
Great Articles and Resources to Learn More:
Think you got it? Cool. Now let’s break it down a little further using some fantastic articles and resources that touch on some of the more nuanced elements and common debates within the world of UI/UX. Again the goal is to make what could be regarded as complex concepts easy to understand for all.
A fantastic breakdown of the history and humanity behind the science of usability by Paul Campillo of Typeform. This is a MUST read to establish a great foundation of understanding.
This one’s a case study of how one company, Spokeo, dramatically improved their user experience through solid UX principles and testing assumptions. This one has some great new perspectives on color, the use iconography in UI, and more.
Just a well-rounded list, with articles that touch on everything relevant in UX, including product and word design, case studies, human perception, memory and cognitive Science, and more.
This one is a personal favorite. It touches on creating the micro-interactions and UI nuances or “delights” that add an extra level of pleasure to UX, as well as when and how to go about implementing them with purpose and tact.
Storytelling, which I am a strong proponent of, is a critical component to good UX, but I really didn’t have time to get into here. Check out this article for a solid breakdown of methods for crafting a unique user journey that’s fused with a strong narrative and genuine human emotion.
Conveying quality and targeting luxury markets is a strong strategy for making high returns, but it needs to be done effectively. This article is fascinating because it breaks down the particulars of which visual elements and techniques subconsciously connote luxury and prestige to your users.
It may sound a bit nefarious but manipulating users is what good design and UI does. This is a nice little keynote packed with great concepts and ideas about how to get your audience to do what you want. Definitely check it out.
With well over 65% of all internet traffic now coming from smartphones, like it or not, we’re now living in a mobile-first world. Even so, one of the biggest ongoing conversations in UI/UX revolves around the best UI solutions for mobile devices. What user paradigms are the most intuitive and effective for the largest groups of mobile users? How can we increase consumption and conversion with such limited screen real estate? This article takes by Smashing Magazine takes a reverse approach to the question by discussing what NOT to do.
“The true value in UI/UX principles is not only that experts understand and employ them, but that they also know how to effectively communicate their value to non-design, non-technical people.”
I hope you enjoyed this guide to communicating UX to non-designers. If you liked it, please pass it along to a friend or coworker who may benefit. And as always, please sound off in the comments below with any questions or items you’d like to discuss.
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