Improving the experience of user experience work

By Andrew on 29th February 2016 — 5 mins read

UX can be annoying. It can tell us things we don’t want to hear. It can ask too much of us. It can, at times, sound a little patronising. UX might forget about the need to balance the interests of the user against other interests – like those of the business or organisation.

Strange to think that UX practitioners, while bringing care and attention to experience of users, might forget about the experience they themselves provide to the people who employ them or work with them. We, of all people, should be aware of the importance of the experience we create. Right?

Well, we’re all human. We can all be annoying at times – or in certain contexts. But there may be something about the nature of UX work, that makes us more likely to be annoying than most. After all, we’re often asked to come into projects and reflect on what’s going wrong. We often need to (try to) persuade people to change direction and give up on certain ideas. If not handled correctly, that can lead to a very poor experience indeed.

Well anyways, there are ways to minimise the annoyance…

1. Get the timing right

A bit of a no-brainer this one. It is annoying to introduce UX research and design late in a project. For example, getting a UX agency to provide usability testing just before the project is due to launch, is a sure fire way to have a terrible UX experience. You’ll learn things about your users too late to do much about it. No one wants that.

You have to make sure you factor in UX activities into the early part of your project. This way you can hope for more bang for your user research buck.

2. Avoid UX heroes

UX work is often not that glamorous. Think of what is involved in a several hundred page content audit, or conducting three days of back-to-back user interviews. This is detailed, methodical work – not ‘blue-sky imagineering’.

Not to say that we don’t need inspiring ideas. We do. Just that it is worth remembering that the best ideas can come from unlikely sources, and most often from hard graft. They generally don’t come from individuals, but rather from teams of creative people, who (let’s be honest here) are most often borrowing, repurposing and building on the work of many hundreds of others researchers and designers who came before them.

The best advise is to remember that UX is everyone’s responsibility. In the interests of getting stuff done, we will want to assign ownership of UX work packages. But we need to make sure this doesn’t get confused with particular individuals taking ownership of the UX of the product or service.

You don’t need a hero. You need a team of humble but passionate grafters. Most of whom probably don’t have UX in their job title.

3. Make sure everyone understands

A key aim is make sure everyone is on the same page with regard to design principles, choices and rationale. This means giving attention to the design behind the design. Design rationale needs to be tangible and easy to apply. It means diagramming the heck out of everything – and making sure that those diagrams are every bit as intuitive as the interfaces or interactions you’re designing. It means explaining everything in simple language.

A project will get into trouble fast if the wider stakeholders don’t know how you got to the final product, or if they simply have no idea what you’re talking about. So avoid jargon and anything that sounds mystical. Chances are, if your clients don’t understand you readily, then they shouldn’t be giving you their attention.

Don’t pretend that UX is some kind of scholarly club for the initiated or that UX principles are hard to learn. They aren’t really! The hard part is expressing things clearly and simply.

4. Take small steps

Projects often get overburdened with lofty aims! If we’re honest with ourselves though, we’re not going to completely reinvent the company we’re working for. We’re probably not shifting paradigms or re-thinking the eCommerce experience (or whatever it is). Why not be humble and aim to increase conversions by 10% through a small but highly targeted piece of work. Why are we all still doing so many big strategic projects – when we know that rapid incremental releases make more sense?

5. Focus on win win options

In any project there are always lots of competing interests at play. We need to strive to identify ways forward that balance the needs of the user, with those of the business, the project delivery teams, interested third parties and anyone else who might be the holder of some stake. Even if you feel, as the UXer, that you’re representing the (otherwise absent) user, you need to be ready to negotiate.

6. Balance insight with evidence

Everyone is drowning in uninterpreted data. Don’t give your clients yet more of it. They have no shortage of un-evidenced opinions either. What they really need is a beautiful medley of insight and evidence.

When you have more data than insights, everyone will feel overwhelmed. Having more insights than data will leave people underwhelmed. Balance it just right and your client will feel well and truly whelmed. In a good way.

7. Create don’t complain

You have two choices with regards to the way you spend your energy. You can be a ‘solutions’ sort of person or a ‘problems’ sort. Though you have to spend a lot of your time understanding the ‘problem space’ – you can bring creativity to that and you must remember to shift into that positive mode of moving things forward. This means sticking your neck out, and offering up some (perhaps even lots of) ways to improve things.

Be ready to hear some voices that point out problems in your solutions (there are always ways to pick holes in something). But don’t let the complainers win. Don’t let them turn you into a complainer.


So there you have it. Seven ways to improve the UX of UX. Get to it people – I expect big things.

Posted in: Design thinking

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