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Need some UX? Break open the pixie dust!

Need some UX? Break open the pixie dust!

The need and accompanying demand for customer– and user–centric processes in designs is growing exponentially. As user expectations rise in a crowded marketplace, standards are similarly set higher for quality of experience with products and services. 

It’s still not uncommon though to still hear the odd request for “a bit of UX” to be added to designs, and sometimes perilously close to the launch of a website or app. Implicit in this attitude are a number of misconceptions, none of which bode well for the project. These may include the following:

UXcan be sprinkled on a project, like some kind of magical pixie dust

First, let’s be absolutely clear: whether designed or not, there is always a ‘user experience’. We all have them with products and services we use, be they digital or not. These experiences are shaped as much by expectation and perception as by the quality of our interactions. So the idea that ‘user experience’ is created by a designer, or someone with UX (or UI) in their title is just plain wrong. What we can safely say is that, without attention to user needs, the user experience is more likely to be a negative one. 

UX Pixie Dust™ doesn’t exist – but the selling of it does, and comes in many forms –  lip service to ‘UX’, with little or no associated process being the most common.


UX can be added towards the end of a design and/or development process

User interface design is often used (more accurately, misused) as a proxy for UX. But again, it’s already too late. Where user interface design might ask “how can we make this process more visually engaging for the user?” (it should be said, another vitally important element in the overall UX process), a user–centred approach will ask first “how do we reduce complexity before we put this process in front of users?”. The latter approach is more challenging – but since when did the quick and easy option become the right one?

The idea of asking designer to “add some UX” on a project is a little like asking an interior fitter to make a building more stable. There may be some points in the process at which it is more central than others, but if stability isn’t a core tenet from day one in a construction project, it isn’t going to end well. 

UX is the sole responsibility of someone with ‘UX’ in their title

Creating a positive user experience is nothing more than a co–ordinated team effort, and needs buy–in and support from the most powerful stakeholders to those on the ground whose responsibility be implementing a user– or customer–centred strategy. And above all else, it requires leadership. Not a ‘loudest–or–most–senior–person–in–the–room–gets–their–way’ kind of leadership, but one that never loses sight of true North on a project, and steers the team accordingly.

So should is involved in creating a positive user experience?

Business owners should be able to clearly articulate the offering, and couple that with a depth of commitment to achieving a vision

Marketing needs to identify the most persuasive and effective way to engage the right customers

Researchers must learn about the motivations, needs, behaviours and goals of the end user

Content writers must understand the audiences they are writing for, and what their content enables or compels its consumers to do

Designers must know how to connect intent with affordance

Developers need to translate abstract functional and technical specifications into a tangible, usable product – and be well–enough informed to be able to do it

…and that’s just for starters. 

Business objectives and user needs are a crucial starting point. The more clearly defined these two elements are at a project’s outset, and the more closely they remain aligned throughout the project, the more effective the final results will be. If you consider the most successful, innovative breakthrough products and services of the last 15 years of the web, you are unlikely to find any that didn’t have a focus on the user baked–in from day one.

In real terms, the notion of “adding a bit of UX to the design” translates roughly as “lets wing it and hope for the best”. Both approaches will be equally effective.

By Rick Monro

Rick was UX Director at Fathom from 2014 to 2017, when he left to take up a role as Principal UX Architect at Puppet.

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