L&T Co. has teamed up with Centric Digital’s resident UX experts, Jean-Marcel Nicolai, Chief Product Officer and Jackson Young, VP of User Experience, to debunk common UX myths and discuss the past, present and future of UX in an informative webinar, live online on June 16th, 2016 at 11:00 am (and available on-demand afterwards).
User experience (UX) has been a buzzword for so long that its exact definition has become hard to nail down concretely; it’s still ubiquitous in the industry (and even beyond), but it often holds different meanings for different people. The general confusion around UX is further compounded by the exponential growth of the new digital frontier we live in. The roles and responsibilities of a UX practitioner have been rapidly transforming to keep pace with the ever-changing digital evolution.
According to Jackson Young and Jean-Marcel Nicolai of Centric Digital, the importance of UX has grown tremendously over the past four decades, keeping pace with our growing reliance on technology and the internet. It makes sense that as technology becomes more and more integrated with our day-to-day living, the way we interact with that technology becomes increasingly complicated and increasingly important as well. Good UX design creates a seamless interface through which a user can intuitively meet his or her needs – it transcends the line between “cold” technological processes and “warm” human interaction. Bad UX design does the opposite, frustrating the user with an overly technical process.
What is UX?
UX design as the concept that we think of today has been around since the 70s (though the idea of optimizing the user experience has been around long before that) and was originally labelled HCI (human-computer interaction). Some examples of early HCI design are the interface of the Xerox machine and the creation of the first computer mouse; both were designed by cognitive psychologist Donald Norman who invented the term “User Experience,” saying “I invented the term because I thought Human Interface and usability were too narrow: I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.”
Despite Norman’s eye for optimizing how users interact with technology, the UX discipline remained pretty basic and was mostly left in the hands of engineers, who were ill-suited to design around the needs of users with only a rudimentary understanding of technology’s processes and functionality. As a result, early technology was frustrating to use, not to mention expensive and limited in practicality, and thus, not widely adopted.
It wasn’t until the 90’s, with the rise of the world wide web and Apple’s introduction of the graphical user interface (i.e. the concept of pointing at an icon and clicking it to initiate a command) that UX design really started to take off. At that time, the biggest hurdle for UX designers was transitioning users from the directly tactile and familiar analog mediums to the digital realm, which relied on simulated actions. Bridging the gap between user and material created behind the screen is, in essence, what UX is all about.
What’s UX Like Today?
According to Nicolai and Young, the biggest shift for UX has occurred in the last decade, especially with the rise of the smartphone and our increased dependence on new forms of technology. Because technology has become such an integral part of our day-to-day lives and because there are a veritable plethora of options of apps, products, and tech services, new products must be designed with the user in mind: if it isn’t easy to use, users will find a product that is. This user-centric approach to designing technology has transformed how we see UX designers. Before, people viewed UX designers as “geeky information structure people,” because most technology was viewed as alien and unintuitive. The new mental models unveil a much “hipper and cooler” image of the UX designer: artistic, forward thinking, and positioned at the crux of design and development.
Young describes the work of a UX designer to be “blood, sweat and tears,” since designers are “constantly learning new techniques and processes and development methodologies, building prototypes and testing quickly, learning about the complex business needs, learning about business models and applying and combining all this with user needs.” Like a massive and ever-changing juggling act, UX designers must constantly look to the future and anticipate the evolving digital landscape, tweaking their wireframes or catering to new personas as needed.
Recent changes in the UX landscape include the discipline itself becoming much more institutionalized: college courses, “alternative” courses, and programs like General Assembly are teaching people how to become UX designers in larger numbers than ever before. This coincides with designers being more widely recognized as having a specialized and valuable skillset compared to the average computer engineer. Young also pointed out that UX is pivoting from from the waterfall process, where each step is siloed, to the agile/lean process of team members working together to solve problems.
What Will UX Be Like in the Future?
With the rise of the Internet of Things in the future, Young anticipates UX design being even more important than it is now, as there will be an even greater need to fully understand user behavior and psychology for product developers to accurately cater to users’ wants and needs. He sees UX design as becoming increasingly programmatic in nature, drawing upon context and relevancy in each use case and providing users with personalized service with every interaction.
Good UX planning saves time and development costs and is, increasingly, the key to a successful product. Users don’t want to be uncomfortable when using a product, regardless of whether that discomfort stems from complex systems, long loading times, or hard-to-find assets. As much as users want to understand technology, they want their technology to understand them, and it’s been proven time and time again that empathizing with your users is the cornerstone to building something that is highly useful and emotionally resonant. While digital is inherently process and system-oriented (an approach that is at odds with our emotion-driven way of interacting with the world), it’s the emotionally engaging design that connects users to technology, integrating it seamlessly with daily life.
In a nutshell, good UX makes technology useful while bad UX obscures the problem that it’s trying to solve. With ever-increasing competition and the exponential growth of technology, there is no room for the latter.