UX is About Processes, not Products

I keep thinking about comments I’ve seen from UX designers on Instagram discussing posts that are tagged #uxdesign. These posts are almost always finished mockups. And amongst the generic bot comments sporting the ‘fire’ emoji, I often see an actual UX designer saying that this isn’t the kind of work they do in UX. While the work varies, UX designers tend towards the storytelling, the wireframes, the empathy/affinity/customer journey maps  that go into making sure the design team is on the same page.

I actually want to bring in another quote I seem to remember from Thoreau’s, ‘Walden Pond’, but according to Quote Investigator (Links to an external site.), it comes from a variety of sources, and the quote is attributed to unknown.

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”

All the background research, synthesis, needfinding, ideation, etc. that we do is sharpening the axe, which in this case would be the wireframe. But I also want to add that I’m grateful for the clarification on what wireframes are and the importance of them. It’s particularly easy to skip over the wireframe if you’re doing your work in an application like Adobe XD for example. When you create a box where a profile picture is supposed to go, it’s so easy to just drag and drop a stock photo into the box. It’s so easy to just select a color for the background.

These simple choices impede the kind of feedback we receive. People see the colors, they see the stock photos in place, and they don’t realize they are just looking at some rectangles in a rectangle. And I think that applies to different kinds of stakeholders too. Non-expert end users often have difficulty providing direct feedback on a finished design, which is why we employ methods like contextual inquiry and ethnography to get at the heart of what their reality is that they can’t readily supply. But even other members of the design team might have a more difficult time with a critique of something that looks more finished than not.

So far at UMSI we’ve gotten a lot of Design Thinking ala IDEO. And while IDEO is one of the most well known agencies, it’s not the only one. AJ&Smart (Links to an external site.) as an example, is well known for the Design Sprint. They also have a YouTube channel (Links to an external site.) and a podcast (Links to an external site.). I remember one video in particular, where Jonathan criticized Design Thinking as a linear process. And then the YouTube recommender showed me other videos where designers went on the attack suggesting that Design Thinking is out because it’s a linear process. Even though everywhere I learn about Design Thinking (e.g. UMSI, IDF) it is stressed that it isn’t a linear process.

I think the main point is that there is no one way to design a product. As designers, we have to synthesize all the resources and tools we have at our disposal and select the best one for that moment. In 501 earlier this week, Kentaro asked what we wanted to get out of the class. Immediately someone said, “An ‘A'”. But an A doesn’t necessarily demonstrate mastery of the material, it demonstrates that all the boxes of the rubric have been satisfactorily checked. When people who just want an A (not to overly criticize the person who said that, I want an A in the course too) apply design thinking to a project, I think there’s a tendency to treat it as a list of boxes to check off, and that results in it being a linear process.

Some of us may go off to work at an agency like AJ&Smart, where they travel around the world running design sprints for different clients on a variety of projects. Others may go to Facebook, and get caught in the cycle of implementing a new update every 2 weeks. Still others may go into a smaller firm where they are a design team of one. In each case, the process and methods most utilized are going to vary. I imagine a wireframe is more important at Facebook, where you have a huge team working on the product. I’m not sure if a wireframe is an important deliverable in a week long design sprint. On the one hand, I could see it being overlooked entirely in order to quickly generate a mockup or prototype. On the other hand, I could see a wireframe being the primary deliverable of a design sprint to pass along to the development team. But if you’re a design team of one, you may or may not be utilizing a wireframe. Personally, I think I would because if I left the company, I could leave them the wireframe for the next designer to work off of.

From Brown we learn that wireframes are representative of the concept we are intending to develop. They focus on the information being presented and the range of possibilities available to the user. What we think of as a wireframe may change over time, but the concept is still the same. It’s like a blueprint.

Ginsburg discussed the importance of concept exploration as it relates to the design process. The part that stuck out to me was creating the appropriate environment to allow for informal collaboration. I think about how people are products of their environment. Sitting in a cubicle all day can be depressing. Putting a picture up of a tropical beach can be a relief. Design is an ambiguous process, and you want to create an environment to support that. 

Storyboards ala Greenburg demonstrate the importance of the designer developing an understanding of the overarching narrative in which a user will use the product. How does this product fit into their overall life?

How can we make our product a seamless integration into the users overall narrative of life?

References:

“Sections 4.4” in Greenberg et al. (2012). Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook. Waltham, MA: Morgan-Kaufman.

Suzanne Ginsburg’s, Designing the iPhone User Experience: A User-Centered Approach to Sketching and Prototyping iPhone Apps. Part Three: Developing Your App Concept, Chapter 6: Exploring App Concepts

Dan Brown, “Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning”: Chapter 7: Wireframes: http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com/book/web-design-and-development/9780131385399/design-diagrams/ch07

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s