Putting the User Back in User Experience (UX) Design

Often times, as designers (or even as developers) it can be easy to forget the user.  Now, this seems antithetical, with all of the current focus on user experience, persona development, user research, user testing, etc., but it is actually a surprisingly easy trap to fall into. Now, it is important to note, that this is not something we usually do on purpose.  When we are building something, especially something complicated, there is a momentum that builds.  Sometimes, this momentum can be strong enough to blow right by the user.  It it a forest through the trees sort of scenario, where we get so focused on the work of design (or development) that we lose the big-picture view, we lose the perspective that lives outside of ourselves (or our small teams), the perspective of the users. It takes dedicated effort and discipline to truly stay connected with the user throughout the entire design/development process.  As much as we would like to lean against our tried-and-true methodologies, past experience, and general gut-level feel for how things should be, if we are not including the user in our design process, we expose our product to the risk of not truly delivering on a user-experience level. Our reasons for sequestering ourselves away from the user are often varied, but usually come down to the same basic things.  That is, humans are complicated, and building things for humans is often messy.  This complication (especially if it does not come until late in the project) can easily manifest into re-work, which can be a big morale drain for the entire team. By adding users into our process (ideally early-on), we may find that some of our assumptions are wrong, or even that there is a better (often more simple) way of accomplishing what we set out to.  Even for projects that begin with very robust user-research/discovery, there are still a ton of assumptions, and even personal bias, that slips into the product.  The only way to qualify these assumptions is to test them against actual people, ideally actual people who would pay actual money for your product. With most projects, it is simply impossible to build the ideal product completely on your own.  You need your users to have a voice before, during, and after design/development.  Plus, by leaning too heavily on standard UX tools (e.g. personas, etc.), we can be flung far afield because of a very simple problem, personas aren’t real.  They are approximations of real people, and although basing design/development decisions off of them is better than just shooting in the dark, they are still no substitute for real user testing.  By leaning too hard on tools like personas, we end up extrapolating assumptions about our users, which may very well end up being wrong. With all of this complexity and risk flying around, bringing in an outside development/design team can make the difference in the final execution of your project.  Getting a fresh perspective from an experienced outside team can be extremely valuable for not only seeing what might be missing, but also for challenging the assumptions that have been made with the project.  Now, that is not to say that assumptions are bad.  In order to get anything done, we often need to make countless assumptions to get it there.  No, the bad thing is never challenging these assumptions, and letting them unconsciously cascade, and grow into real problems, with your product. At Surge, we take user testing very seriously, and we work very hard to give the user a strong, consistent voice throughout the development/design process.  We know that it is only through the rigor of thorough user testing that we will know your product is what it needs to be.

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