The Design industry is a kingdom of philosophers. Our meta discussions are endless. We constantly try to define and re-define our own field. Decisive response to environmental change (like Agile and Lean) takes us literally years.
And I love it.
Meta discussions show that we deeply care about our jobs and give us an in-depth insight into the nature of our field. Philosophical disposition helps us better understand what we are and what we are not doing right. It’s absolutely great… unless it detains us in our ivory towers.
Joshua Porter, author of unforgettable Designing Social Interfaces, one of my favorite UX bloggers, asks in his latest blog post: „Is design building interfaces or solving problems?” and starts his crusade against closing up design in sprints.
I’m afraid that the question itself is misleading and the crusade is rather futile.
Is there really a dichotomy between building interfaces and solving problems? No and I wouldn’t assume that Joshua really thinks there is. As I understand, Josh is not trying to conflict both definitions, but rather to emphasize power of building interfaces anchored in problem solving approach to design. Fair enough. This is statement that I can wholeheartedly agree with.
I’d say that design as a workfield consists of two crucial ingredients:
Only mixing up these two ingredients give us proper, tasty design. If we stop at the „ingredient 1” step, design would be just an academic field.
Let me put it straight: design must be actionable. We’re not paid to plan solving problems, but to solve problems.
Designers solve problems by building interfaces.
This simple, almost trivial statement implies actual building the thing. If the product we carefully designed won’t be built or the final result will be far from expectations, problem of users remains unsolved. It means that design has failed and in fact that designer has failed.
Designer should always be judged by the final result of his work – the product.
I’m sorry to say so, but nobody cares about our pretty deliverables and amazing research, if they won’t lead to a stunning product.
One sprint ahead
Joshua argues that „if you view design as problem solving then it’s probably better to have a separate design process out in front of your development sprints that allows designers to adapt to the problem at hand.” and I must protest.
In some methodologies (yes, Agile) it might be good idea to do initial UX activities in, so called, sprint zero, but does it implies separation of the design process? For the sake of the final product I’d rather suggest including the rest of the team in the „design sprint zero”.
Team will be much better motivated if it’ll actually understand what designer had in mind and how the design works.
We’re not paid to enlighten people around us out of our ivory towers. We’re paid to cooperate with team and create amazing products that solve real problems.
And finally Joshua suggest that design if perceived as a problem solving activity doesn’t fit the „fixed-time sprints”.
Josh, design is not a magical, unpredictable craft. Design is a blend of science and art. The art part gives us less certainty in time estimations than engineers have, but still I’d argue that it’s absolutely possible to assess time of design tasks.
In my „UX manager” times I was always encouraging my team to break every project into set of small activities and write down probable amount of time that they need to finish certain task.
Guess what. After couple of sprints their estimates were much more accurate than at the beginning. It resulted with much more reasonable deadlines that were based on facts (passed sprints) not on mere manager’s wishful thinking.
And this whole play with estimations gave us additional super power – insight into our own practice. It lets us eliminate steps in the process that are not contributing to the final result and focus on key activities. From my experience first design hardly wins. So the quicker we can get to test of conception and start iterating – the better.
Actual measurement of users behavior and iterative improvement of the design are the safest path to success.
Joshua – to engage into meta design discussion with one of my UX heroes, is a real pleasure. Thank you for thinking-stimulating blog post.
Have you ever tried to wireframe a modal window? I’m sure you did.
It was always a struggle for me. I couldn’t understand why it’s not possible to create modal overlay with 100% width (usually grayish, half-transparent background). I was frustrated to always start right at the beginning… You know the story.
It’s a small thing, but great designs are full of beautiful details.
And we decided to add this small detail to UXPin to make your professional life a little bit better. Just take a look at the video:
If you don’t have your UXPin account yet and want to feel the relief of easy modal & dialog box wireframing, join us – it’s FREE!
ps. I’m proud of whole UXPin team. Our App is getting better and better every day!
UXPin was started by UX Designers and we deeply care for our field and community. Therefore from time to time you’ll find on this blog our opinions on most important UX topics.
Back in 2010 question „Can User Experience be designed?” became strangely popular. User Experience field, which really had just started to grow worldwide, needed to face fierce attack on its heart, or ekhm…rather name. Two years passed quickly and the question keeps coming back like a creepy, unwelcomed, boomerang. Every couple of weeks someone asks me if experience can be designed and I almost want to scream „Yes! Yes it can!”.
Hold on. Here’s a classic list of articles. Have fun:
Why I don’t agree with neither protagonists nor antagonists? Because they all tend to treat results of User Experience Designers work as something strangely fixed. I’d rather say that every design is a hypothesis that requires validation and most probably should be subject of an optimisation after thorough measurement.
Well, let me explain that thought in details.
Antagonists of User Experience Design argue that designers can’t design experience, because they cannot control all the factors that influence experience. Fair enough. Of course we can’t control every factor that influence behaviour. Dooh.
So to say, we wouldn’t be able to actually design anything, because we cannot completely control how designed products will be used. Oh damn…maybe design doesn’t exist at all!?
Fortunately it exists and well…is not about control of every factor influencing behaviour.
If I design a chair and one person uses it as a table, does my design fail? No! Maybe this one particular person doesn’t have better table at home, or just loves to use chairs as tables. I can’t control it! In the world of scientific research we call such people „deviants”. Deviants don’t count when it comes to assessment of certain research hypothesis.
On the other hand let say I sold 100 chairs that I designed and all my customers use them as tables. Damn…there must be something wrong with my chair, right? Probably it does not suggest action of sitting, but rather some table-like experience. If I still want to produce a chair, I need to change it right now. I need to change it in a way that will suggest sitting as a primary action and will be so comfortable that everyone will want to have one to sit on.
Do you see where I’m going?
User Experience Design is about planning factors that should be able to shape behavioural and emotional reaction of most users in a planned way.
Result of User Experience Designer work is a hypothesis not a fixed being. It should be measured and optimised iteratively till the version that is able to shape most of user’s experience in a particular way.
Desired behavioural and emotional reaction should be characterised by measurable metrics. Metrics form goals. Design that is unable to achieve goals, equals design that doesn’t shape an experience in a planned way, equals design that requires optimisation.
Do we plan to get 100% conversion rate? No. Why? Because it would be extremely stupid. We can’t control all the factors and influence every person.
Ain’t that simple?
We, User Experience Designers, care for overall users’ experience, because we are metrics and goals driven. We care for specific, planned by us, behavioural and emotional reaction.
Don Norman says:
„I don’t like the term “usability,” and I don’t want to be called an “HCI expert.” I believe that what’s really important to the people who use our products is much more than whether I can use something, whether I can actually click on the right icon, whether I can call up the right command… What’s important is the entire experience, from when I first hear about the product to purchasing it, to opening the box, to getting it running, to getting service, to maintaining it, to upgrading it. Everything matters: industrial design, graphics design, instructional design, all the usability, the behavioral design… so, I coined the term “user experience” some time ago to try to capture all these aspects.”
Hope that clarifies this complicated matter a little bit.
ps. Now you know why latest version of our UX Design App lets you create iterations of your work