It is a constant struggle for UX designers to explain what we do. Most people either don’t understand what we do, or assume it is the easy stuff. We can’t really explain what we do to our parents. After all, the visible part of the outcome isn’t really ours, most of that is made by a visual designer or a front-end developer. 7 years ago, I had to disguise myself as a front-end developer to get a job at River because the company didn’t know yet what to do with my skillset.
Reverse engineering experiences
UX designers are mostly problem solvers. They find ways to organize information and help/guide/engage people every day. But most creatives do that as well. One of the particular things UX designers do differently is how they look at the world. They deconstruct experiences all the time to understand how they are built and what makes them enjoyable, engaging, annoying. This is a very similar process to reverse engineering where engineers (or curious teenagers) open up things to understand how they are built and how they work. This approach was made popular by Donald Norman in The Design of Everyday Things, when he explained the affordances of a door (see example below).
Most doors are either push or pull. But a lot of doors will not communicate how you should interact with them. In this example both doors have the same handles, so there is no easy way to understand if you should push or pull (that’s why we need those text labels on them). Once you have realized that the push door doesn’t need a handle, then you have deconstructed the experience of using those doors.
Unlike reverse engineering, the deconstruction needs to look not only at the objects of the experience but at some tremendously more unpredictable elements: the people interacting with it. That’s why the field of Human-Computer Interaction borrows from multiple fields of research, from psychology and sociology to ergonomics.
Each UX designer has somewhere in their head an entire history of deconstructed experiences. From the usability of the TV interface to the cognitive tricks that Virtual Reality headsets can play on your brain. From the confused answers of Siri or Alexa to the delight of unlocking Swarm badges. Like an encyclopedia of experiences, good and bad, ready to tapped into. It’s our duty as designer to practice this mindset but also to make this knowledge accessible to our teams. Otherwise we are just “brilliant jerks” (heard in a meeting last week) and from the client side it feels like we are just trying to change everything.
The truth behind the numbers
To avoid this, we are offering to our clients to assess their current experience (website, mobile app or campaign) from an expert, a consumer and an analytics standpoint. We not only evaluate the usability of an experience (the way Nielsen has defined it in their heuristics) but also the brand experience in terms of the communication leading to the experience. We combine this expert review with an analytics report on the user journey (what works and what doesn’t, to simplify) to deliver to our clients an assessment report. This report is therefore a snapshot of the approach and mindset the team will have when redesigning the experience later.
So why do you need a UX-designer?
This snapshot is a concentrated version of all the deconstructed experiences we accumulated, brought to our clients’ context. It will show you your own world from a different perspective. And that’s priceless.
Experience Design Director