Why UX

When experience steers the ship

Long gone are the days when a faster chip or beautiful finish was enough to sway consumer opinion.

Updated September 08, 2019

Over the past hundred years, no single industry has influenced our modern way of life, quite like the Tech industry.

What started on the fringes of the global economy took off as the Soviet Union and the United States battled to win the Space Race in the 1960s. Without these two countries battling it out for global supremacy, many of the innovations that modern society relies on wouldn’t have happened when they did.

The Cold War did more than put humans on the Moon. It also funneled billions of dollars into Silicon Valley, laying the groundwork for the technological wave that we’re still riding on today.

The wave that once propelled technology forward at a velocity that made progress easy to measure has slowed to the naked eye. Huge leaps are still occurring with machine learning and artificial intelligence leading the way, but these advances will go unnoticed to the average person.

To see how innovation has slowed in recent years, look no further than mobile phones. If you look back 15 years, you find phones in all manner of shapes and sizes. Today, we describe the vast majority of mobile devices can as glass covered, with a beautiful screen, and an excellent camera. That description has been accurate for most mobile devices released at any point in the last five years.

These devices have not stopped their forward momentum. However, the focus has shifted from pure technical specifications to what those ultra-fast specifications allow you to do.

In short, user experience has taken over the stage.

It is important to note that this aspect of the user experience is the result of work conducted by designers, project managers, and developers to design a product worth buying. The journey to that product typically begins with User Experience Design.

Design world of Wicked Problems

As sinister as that label might sound, Wicked Problems are firmly grounded in reality.

The term ‘wicked problem’ was first coined by German professor Horst Rittel, who used the phrase to describe problems that are resistant to resolution. Wicked problems avoid permanent solution often due to the evolving state of the systems that they interact with.

When classifying something as ‘wicked,’ it merely means that the issue is challenging to solve with a standard approach. We refer to problems that are easy to measure and consistent as ‘friendly.’

While considered to be an advanced game by most people, chess abides by a consistent framework of rules and parts. Chess is something that can be mastered with repetition because what we learn can always be applied later. Like most games, chess exists in a ‘friendly’ learning environment.

Design problems are different than chess because they rarely, if ever, consist of the same elements. Each issue is different in some way. The more a problem changes from one instance to the next, the less you can rely on experience alone to guide you to a solution.

To combat ‘wicked problems,’ UX designers lean on known research methods for extracting and tabulating data that help guide decision making. Beyond methods, designers must remain curious about the task they are attempting to solve while resisting the temptation to fall back on knowledge gathered previously.

In this UX course, you’ll apply a myriad of methods to the project you’ll work through. This moment will likely be the only time you utilize this specific set of methods together in this order. That’s because each project you work on will have different requirements, and that will often determine the methods you utilize.

UX is messy and often lacks the efficiency that we desire in a business-driven exercise. Acknowledging this ahead of time is essential because you will encounter dead ends along your journey. Not every bit of research performed will be useful for your final product. However, it is critical to the end-user experience that you make that determination after conducting the research.

The research you perform is an exercise in reducing risk to the user, the business, and the community. While it is impossible to achieve complete confidence in a solution, that’s always our goal. Cutting corners is the quickest way to undermine your ability to stand behind the work.

Countering the made-up mind

For all of the research that we can and should do, you’ll encounter plenty of voices ready question the need for research. These voices will quickly encourage you to skip performing any research or present you with data collected from ‘the last time’ they worked on the project.

Some of that information presented will be very helpful, and you should always gratefully accept it and ask if they have more. However, many pieces will likely be outdated because products do not exist in a vacuum — they interact with a larger outside world that must be accounted for.

Regardless of what their positions are, your first job isn’t to change them but rather to understand them. Only when you understand a detractor can you possibly begin the work of changing their position.

UX plays a particularly important role in these moments because the foundation of UX is in observable truth rather than opinion — and truth can beat opinion in most instances.

However, I encourage you to begin your journey into UX with the most powerful weapon you can wield. You’re ears. There are few things that people desire more than to be heard by another person. If you truly want to sway the hearts and minds of people around you, listen to them without interruption. Probe deeper with relevant questions to what they have said and prepare to listen some more. The type of mental devil will matter little, because the act of listening is an antidote for anchoring, confirmation bias, entrenchment and many other forms of contrarianism.

Exercise

As illustrated in this short introduction to User Experience Design, the ‘user experience’ is the output that UX Design creates. While methods drive UX Design, those will change from project-to-project because you’re tackling problems that are continually evolving.

Additionally, you’ll face both internal and external opposition along the way. You should adopt a stance to hear out detractors rather than attempting to change their mind with data and logic.

In this exercise, find a ‘wicked problem’ that you’ve encountered and addressed. Break down your discussion into the following parts:

  • What was the problem?
  • Why was it ‘wicked’?
  • Is the problem solved or ongoing?
  • If solved, how? If ongoing, why?

Once complete, update your Program Journal with links to any assets produced in this exercise. Post your Journal in the #Feedback-Loop channel for review.

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