Thoughts on UX Design

User expe­ri­ence design is big, espe­cially as it relates to web inter­faces and interactions.

It’s rare that the prophets pro­claim­ing the man­i­fold ben­e­fits of “good” UX design are silent, but I think we might be miss­ing the point. True, there is some ben­e­fit to the claims: good design requires a good under­stand­ing of the prob­lem we are try­ing to solve and data can be use­ful as we for­mu­late a solu­tion. After all, who doesn’t want to cre­ate things that are easy for peo­ple to use and the fear of lost con­ver­sions if we don’t do it “right” silences most dissent.

It doesn’t help that we live in an age of mas­sive access to infor­ma­tion which dri­ves us to find new and bet­ter ways to man­age the flow of that infor­ma­tion so as not to over­whelm our capa­bil­ity to absorb it. About fif­teen years ago, Monika Par­rinder pub­lished an arti­cle in Eye where she wrote:

The usual ‘designer response’ is either to cre­ate design which attempts to make sense of infor­ma­tion over­load, or to cre­ate design that attempts to block it out by deliv­er­ing ‘expe­ri­ences’ not information.”

Look­ing at UX design today I find that state­ment a rebuke to how we approach design­ing inter­ac­tions. The rock star sta­tus of UX and data in design cir­cles has led to what I feel is undue empha­sis on the expe­ri­ence over the infor­ma­tion for which the expe­ri­ence osten­si­bly exists to deliver. So long as the user is “happy” because of their expe­ri­ence not much else mat­ters. Under­stand­ing how the peo­ple inter­act with what we cre­ate is very impor­tant and this may seem like an unduly harsh crit­i­cism, but it is not lightly given.

One of the major out­lets for web design, Smash­ing Mag­a­zine, recently pub­lished an arti­cle pur­port­ing that the ulti­mate goal of a web­site is happy users which leads to more con­ver­sions. The arti­cle was talk­ing about respon­sive design and user expe­ri­ence and while the point wasn’t elab­o­rated on and was a rel­a­tively minor state­ment in the arti­cle, it struck me as a rather pre­sump­tive and nar­row view­point. Why? Because by assum­ing that the end goal is sim­ply happy users you negate the emo­tion that the infor­ma­tion itself may impart on the user or how the inter­ac­tion might be designed so as to enhance this emotion.

Maybe we’ve taken this approach because we feel there is too much infor­ma­tion and empha­siz­ing the expe­ri­ence masks the real issue while our data tells us we’ve cre­ated happy users to sac­ri­fice on the alter of the almighty con­ver­sion. Many years ago the art of typog­ra­phy was com­pared to a crys­tal gob­let, sig­ni­fy­ing that the typog­ra­phy should be invis­i­ble, enhanc­ing the con­tent delivered.

Much has changed since then but the prin­ci­ple still has appli­ca­tion today, espe­cially when it comes to user expe­ri­ence design. By design­ing expe­ri­ences, or bet­ter, inter­ac­tions that are invis­i­ble we allow users to focus their atten­tion on the infor­ma­tion that drew them to our site in the first place. We con­nect the users emo­tion to the infor­ma­tion rather than the act of inter­fac­ing with the deliv­ery mechanism.

I should clar­ify that invis­i­ble as used here is not syn­ony­mous with inter­faces and inter­ac­tions that require no thought. Very few inter­faces and inter­ac­tions are truly intu­itive and while pat­terns can ease the learn­ing process, all inter­faces must be learned. Con­sis­tency through­out the inter­face is of absolute neces­sity; con­for­mity to con­ven­tion is plastic.

To explain this dif­fer­ently, most of us don’t con­sciously think about pipes. They invis­i­bly work to bring clean water to us and remove waste water but are essen­tial to how we live and work. We only think about plumb­ing when some­thing goes wrong like a pipe starts to leak or breaks. UX design encap­su­lates infor­ma­tion and con­veys it to the user not unlike the pipes in our example.

As design­ers, it is our respon­si­bil­ity to ensure that what we cre­ate com­mu­ni­cates the infor­ma­tion rather than exposes the method of deliv­ery. When we design inter­ac­tions we must not for­get that our data rep­re­sents real, think­ing peo­ple. Peo­ple who don’t become “user drones” once they open our sites and who likely aren’t com­ing just to see the expe­ri­ence we’ve cre­ated. If we remem­ber this, per­haps we can cre­ate expe­ri­ences that enhance the infor­ma­tion they are designed to deliver.

Aaron Dickey
Author: Aaron Dickey

I’m a graphic designer from Greenville, South Car­olina. When I’m not work­ing, you can usu­ally find me read­ing about design, study­ing type, or paint­ing tiny war gam­ing minia­tures in my spare time. I try to keep up with this blog to record my thoughts on design, typog­ra­phy, or pro­vide tuto­ri­als for paint­ing miniatures.