The UX Files
Tanvi Purohit /
Back in 2013, I was a fresh graduate looking to start my career as a graphic designer. After three years and a few painful modules of web design and animation, I decided that I wanted to explore the realm of branding and advertising. Coding was just not for me, even if it was using the now-obsolete software Adobe Flash. I scored a job at a leading branding and retail design firm in Mumbai, blissfully unaware of the burgeoning digital landscape.
Cut to two years down the line – I got a whiff of what goes on at a UI/UX agency through a chance meeting, and it really got me thinking. The digital world was NOT what I had in mind. Coding was definitely a part of it, but not what I would partake in in depth. In fact, as a design strategist, my contribution to a digital interface would be a lot like what I was doing in retail and branding – crafting an experience – plus a whole lot more. That’s when I made the switch. Two years, 50 presentations and 500 screens later, let me break down my process and learnings, minus all the jargon!
Meet the Parents
…Or ‘stakeholders’ as they’re called in the corporate world. Don’t let the sound of that fool you, ‘stakeholders’ are the people who own the product on the client’s side and have recognized the need for expert intervention. Every UX project is kicked off with a meeting with the stakeholders (there could be 1 or 20 – luck of the draw, really). You should walk away from this meeting with the answers to these burning questions:
- Who are your customers?
- What are you offering?
- Why should they come to you?
Besides this, it’s important to understand what the client’s expectations are with reference to their brand and the project as a whole. Walk away with a few answers, a lot of curiosity and a ton of excitement.
Depending on the nature of the project, you’d have chalked out the quintessential ‘next steps’ at the stakeholder meeting.
Here’s a quick brief of the kinds of project you’d work on as a UX Designer.
An Expert Review is an X-Ray of the client’s current landscape. After the initial kickoff, it’s time to deep-dive into the application, website, m-website or more often than not, all three. There is no clear-cut formula to create an effective expert review – it often depends on the context: sometimes the ER can be broken down into the pillars of UX (Navigation, Interaction, Content & Presentation), or an analysis of its vital user flows, or a completely out-of-the-box breakdown of the digital landscape. The main objective of the ER is to tell a compelling story to convince the client that an overhaul is necessary – and that’s when things get really exciting!
User Research could be a standalone project or part of a larger one, usually undertaken prior to the design strategy phase. The purpose of user research is to understand the preferences, motivations, reservations, cultural influences and general outlook of your target audience. Eventually, all of these will contribute in creating an experience that’s exclusively for them. There are various types of research methods:
- Quantitative Surveys – We’ve all received these at some point via Facebook, Whatsapp or email. All you need are 5 minutes, 15 questions about a particular topic, and easy access to SurveyMonkey. This method works when you’re looking for specific data points across a defined target audience.
- Focus Groups – This method requires moderating a group of 6-7 individuals who fit the profile of your target audience. On one hand, focus groups enable real, human responses, while on the other, it’s very likely that an individual is quieter than another, thus restricting honest opinions. Also, focus groups have a high potential to be a little chaotic: after all, you have 6-7 (probably very opinionated) people in a room trying to get their point of view across to one neutral party…
- Qualitative Research – Most of our projects employ these one-on-one interviews as our research method. Imagine you’re a talk-show host minus the audience: you have to be likeable enough to have the interviewee confide in you as they answer questions you’ve scripted around their lives, your product, their thoughts on your products. The golden rule is to ask a lot of open-ended questions: let them talk while you listen. There are chances that some interviewees won’t open up as much as you’d like them to, but that’s where the understanding of body language and culture comes in. The data points collected over even 10 of such interviews are tremendously insightful and will excite any Excel enthusiast.
Into the Wild
A Design Revamp project could span the entire universe of a client’s footprint and touchpoints, or just barely a city. It could allow for some minor design changes or be an entirely new innovation – or somewhere in between. Whatever the length and breadth of your project, it’s important to understand the why as a jumping-off point. Craft a strategy: revisit the stakeholder interview, address the current problems, propose a solution and define a few design routes. At every milestone, you, as an expert, will have to tell a captivating story around the design route that is best suited for the client and the context. This is where science meets art: marry your know-how about the target audience and product to the science of psychology / persuasion and the art of design. The result is anybody’s guess, but the method is sacrosanct.
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
User Testing is the phase of user-centered design that exposes the positives and negatives (and everything in between) of your design solution. There are only two possibilities when it comes to user testing: your design is deemed ready for development, or you have to go back to the drawing board. User testing sends you back into a room with the product and an interviewee: you can ask questions about specific task flows or leave the interviewee to their own devices (literally). Either way, the objective of user testing is to find out if your finished product really works for your target audience. As an interviewer and designer invested in the product, it’s very easy to sway the interviewee’s opinion, but that is an absolute no-no. Read this article for some in-depth advice on how to run user tests in an unbiased way.
Development is not traditionally part of design process but is essential to it – it’s the stage where designers and engineers unite to bring a unique experience to life (or any electronic devices). Even though it’s not my forte, I’ve learnt that development without the involvement of design leads to disaster. Through this phase, both a developer and designer’s jobs entail a number of discussions, walkthroughs, possible adjustments to the product, all topped off with a generous dollop of patience. This phase follows the design and is possibly followed by another round of user testing. After all, we all need a little bit of validation.
Back to the Future
The design process will evolve with every new project; after all, every project has its unique scope, timelines, and people. The end-goal, however, remains constant – a memorable experience, a feeling.
I’ve learnt that as a designer, the only distinction between the physical and digital world is the manifestation of your design. Besides that, the target users must be at the heart of the product. While it’s intrinsic to be a good listener and effective communicator, it’s equally important to be able to identify and understand the context of a project and its people from a social, cultural and psychological lens. That’s the mammoth step that leads to a strategy and paves the way for good design.