Thinking Through True UX

By Whitney Blessington | January 25th, 2013

Strategic Design | User Experience

I’ve been just as guilty as anyone of this in the past, but businesses have a tendency to really overcomplicate things for themselves without knowing it. At some level, the over-complication just comes with the territory, and I get that, but it in hindsight, it really isn’t necessary.

At it’s core – User Experience (UX) – has a pretty self-explanatory definition. Many companies just think of it as making something “usable.” We think of it as an opportunity to make something “special.” Wait, let me rephrase that, so I don’t sound really pompous or cocky. What I mean is, each project – small or large and complex – is truly an opportunity to create something special.

I know it sounds “idealist,” but if you’re going to do it, why not take the time to truly do it well? And by “take the time,” I really just mean carve out at least a few hours of “thinking.”

Many strategists get snickered at for taking time to think through things, especially when it’s on the client’s dime. And, honestly, rightfully so. However, it’s so easy to get caught up in features, design or coding before the true thinking has taken place.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to get thoroughly annoyed by “analysis paralysis,” but true UX isn’t that. True UX is looking at a project from all angles:

  • Who are the target audiences and WHY will they use the site?
  • What are the business goals?
  • Creating efficiencies for internal staff
  • Generating leads
  • Generating awareness
  • Generating resources
  • Direct E-Commerce
  • Just having fun?

 

Okay, so the last one NEVER happens, but I had to throw it in there to make sure we don’t lose sight of the fact that these projects can and should have a “fun side.” If your team doesn’t love what they’re doing – get a new team – seriously… which is a perfect segue for me to introduce my inspiration behind this blog post – the Cabedge IA team.

Our group, Matthew Rogers, Brett Henley, Trevor Denton, Allen Willis, Courtenay Rogers, and many coders/consultants from Atiba Software, is extremely passionate about IA/UX and all the buzz words. No wait, we’re just passionate about doing things well. Well for the client’s audiences. Well for the client’s business and bottom line.

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This week we had the pleasure of working face-to-face with one of our most well-thought-of and respected team members and co-workers – Justin Davis of Madera Labs. Justin has worked with maybe many people reading this post, and he is freaking awesome. Being completely transparent, Justin, Matthew, Brett, Courtenay and I have all known each other for a few years, and worked together on several projects. Justin used to live in Franklin, TN and now resides in Tampa, FL. He runs his own phenomenal company – Madera Labs, that help companies discover and design innovative product and service experiences. Madera uses a human-centered approach to innovation, insight discovered from real customers to drive product and service ideation, and helps design those products and services to make sure exceptional experiences are delivered.

User Experience

In short, we have adopted the Madera model here at Cabedge. Justin is – make no mistake – part of our Cabedge UX team, and we are fortunate to have him. He’s a unique blend of a teacher and learner without meaning to be or coming across as if he knows more than you (although he likely does).

Getting in the same room with him this week with one of our fortunate clients was of extreme benefit for one of our larger active coding projects and those that will eventually experience that product in any way.

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Doing UX well isn’t easy. It takes a unique client, buy-in that usually doesn’t fully materialize, and time. Time to think.

Sometimes you’re all in the same room talking things through. Sometimes you’re writing on papers, whiteboards, or videoing and photographing things. UX is hard to explain, it just has to happen. It’s not fancy. It’s just good communication.

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The challenge is that it takes patience and understanding from the client. They might not understand what they’re paying for exactly, because in good UX the deliverables vary, big time. They’re not always just fancy sitemaps and wireframes.

Because of this, client buy-in is tough, and rare, but necessary. Not just for the agency’s sake, but for the client’s.

And, as Justin and I discussed in a great one-on-one lunch at PF Chang’s in Cool Springs (his first time ever at PF Chang’s), even the smallest projects deserve some thought.

When building a small website, even thinking through who will be updating the content and how often they’ll need to do so is extremely important to delivering a good “UX.” Asking basic questions about the purpose of different ideas is extremely important and in most cases productive discussions can happen in short periods of time if everyone can all get in a room or on a Google hangout.

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In short, it’s about making the complex extremely simple. But in order to get simple, you have to sort of first get complicated, I guess.

As long as you’re doing the majority of the thinking before the coding and before the design, you will likely be in good shape, so form can follow function.

Takeaways:

  • Clients and prospective clients: all projects, regardless of the budget, should have some room for “thought.”
  • A UX guru has to understand coding and design; as well as usability.
  • True UX is creative problem solving.
  • Work it into your budget somehow. Even if just for a small project to create strategy and wireframes in one day.
  • Larger projects can take more of an agile approach/framework.
  • Our approach on several medium size projects is to have our Project Manager, Strategic Designer and UX Guru literally stand in a room together with the client and sketch, talk, play and document what needs to happen (like the photos seen here).
  • It’s tough for business owners/CEOs to sometimes justify this stage, but it’s extremely important. It’s a lot like investing in green technology in your house. Tough to wrap your brain around paying the cost up front at first, but saves you a ton of money over time.
  • We have to ask our clients a lot of “the right” questions in order to get them what they need (not want, but need) … this can be frustrating for the client, so to do it correctly – the client needs to be mentally prepared for the process.
  • UX guru can’t come in with pre-conceived notions of how things should be done. Have to listen, adapt, think and deliver on the fly a bit, yet continuously refine.
  • Have coders involved in the process, but have them listen and answer questions.
  • It’s very important not to overlook analytical data in this process.

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