That’s wireframing, right? Why is business so confused about User Experience Design?

That’s wireframing, right? Why is business so confused about User Experience Design?

If you are short on time, here is a summary:

  • Yes, this is my first post on the sparkly new pondo blog.
  • The business world is confused about what User Experience Design (UXD) actually is.
  • As a community, we need to be able to easily explain what UXD is, and why it has value.
  • UXD is about designing something with empathy for the people that will actually be using it.
  • To get business to take note we need to put it in terms they understand, money.

If you have a few minutes, hello : )

I’ve read and seen many different attempts at explaining what User Experience Design (UXD) is, and yet I see a lot of confusion in the business community about it. Inevitably, I spend the first 10 minutes of a meeting trying to explain what UXD actually is.

UXD gets reduced to either “making things look pretty”, “making things easy to use” or “that’s wireframing, right?”. This is bad for us as a community. We need to be able to clearly articulate what it is that we do and why it has value.

So, in my first blog post for pondo I though I would give it a go.

What others say.

Lets start with what’s out there already. The “official” definition of  User Experience Design (UXD) from Wikipedia (I know, I know, it’s Wikipedia) is:

“User Experience Design (UXD or UED or XD) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product.”

A bit dry that. Another one from Laura Klein, Principal at Users Know goes like this:

“UX design is the process used to determine what the experience will be like when a user interacts with your product.”

I like the process bit. But one I particularly like is this one from Whitney Hess:

“It’s a commitment to developing products and services with purpose, compassion, and integrity.”

Whitney uses the word compassion, I prefer empathy, and for me, that’s the important bit.

There are obviously many different ways to actually execute on designing something (“That’s wireframing, right?”). But at the core of it UXD is just designing something with empathy for the people that will actually be using it. Genuinely caring about their experience. To do this we have to involve them in the process. How can we possibly know what is important, difficult, or desirable for them without involving them?

So my crack at a definition of User Experience Design goes like this:

“User Experience Design is an approach to design that involves the people that are actually going to be using the product or service that is being designed.”

So if that’s it why is business so confused by it?

I think there are two reasons:

  1. As the UXD community, the tools (“That’s wireframing, right?”), processes and techniques that we use are constantly changing. This prevents business people who are not full-time UXD practitioners from staying in the loop, so whenever they do speak to a UX person, they hear something slightly different.
  2. UXD is complicated. It’s not one “thing”. It’s a collection of many, many diverse disciplines. Each UX Designer has a different way of looking at it, so they have a different focus, and they will explain it differently.
UX isn’t one “thing” it’s a collection diverse disciplines and processes.

Ok, so how do we explain UXD to business people?

In my experience the best way to get business people to listen is to tug on their… um… purse strings. So if we can explain UX in terms of money, business will make a real effort to understand.

Option 1: “UXD reduces your risk“. A few years ago I heard a great talk by Phil Barrett from Deloitte Digital (Then Flow Interactive) on the business case for UXD. If I remember correctly, it goes something like this: “Why make expensive mistakes by developing a product that you think your customers want, only to find out when you launch that it doesn’t fulfil their (or your) requirements? You can reduce this risk by testing often and early with your customers so that you know your product will have a market and fulfil their requirements”.

Option 2: “Good UXD will give you a competitive edge“. If people like your product, they will use it more. If they don’t like it, they will use your competitor’s. Thanks to companies like Uber,  kickstarter and AirBnB, business is realising that to really stand out from the crowd, they need to offer something really well designed. The difference between success and failure is often in the user experience.

Option 3: “You can feel in control of your product again“. I often see business people being held hostage by developers. They feel that the developers just do what they want to, projects over-run and don’t deliver what business needs. Historically, programmers had a high level of autonomy. They were the ones who knew how to build the thing after all, so they built it the way they thought was best (Or using the “coolest” new tech). The problem with this is that programmers don’t necessarily think like business people or customers. Alan Cooper said it well, “The inmates are running the asylum“. It’s the equivalent of letting a structural engineer design the building. It won’t fall down, but it probably won’t be the most satisfying building to spend time in.

User Experience design can help balance competing agendas and requirements.

UX Designers can help bridge that gap between the developers,  users and business. Our job is to listen to everyone’s perspectives and design a solution that works for everyone involved.

UX is about designing experiences that suck less. We need to be able to explain what we do to the world out there otherwise we will never get the opportunity to do that.

So,  hopefully this helped. A bit.

Image Credit Leung Cho Pan