July 25, 2013
It’s true that having designers focused on usability and user experience is an important aspect of any quality product. Here’s the thing, user experience should be a focus for everyone involved in the product, not only designers.
I’m an Experience Designer. My title and work duties are a bit different these days but I’m still a designer. It’s fair to say that designers view problems through a different lens. Not a better lens, per se, just a different lens. Of course this sentiment can be extended to product owners, developers, or stakeholders. Each discipline has a unique set of skills and perspectives and we all need to be focused on user experience.
User-Centered Design is not enough
While designers have long been the lone voice for using user-centered design (UCD) methods for designing, we don’t own user experience. This sounds odd to say, but it’s certainly something I’ve heard from many designers. “All the user experience things must go through us!” Could you imagine the bottleneck if this were true?
Let’s distinguish user-centered design from user experience. User-centered design is the process and methods used to design. A good user experience is the result from the UCD process. Think of user experience as the sum of the variables which make up the experience. Some variables designers have control over (such as workflows, button placement, and how information is displayed) whereas many variables are beyond our control.
Variables beyond a designer’s control
Consider just a few aspects of user experience which are typically out of the hands of the designer: performance, functionality, and security. Each of these are critical aspects of user experience. Designers need to work with these variables but have no real control over them. I’ve had this conversation many times, “It’s too slow, how much faster can we get it? That’s not ideal, we should create some status message which lets our users know we’re processing their request.” These variables play an undeniable role to user experience and are often the purview of other team members. These team members, just like designers, are intimately involved in creating a good user experience. An unexpectedly slow response to a user action results in a poor experience. A button that doesn’t work or a link which connects to the wrong part of the site can erode users’ trust.
UX is everyone’s responsibility
A focus on user experience requires a team approach. We’ve talked about the variables which impact an experience and it’s clear that these variables span across many disciplines. We need engaged product owners who understand the important aspects of UX. We need to help build empathy with developers so they can understand why the extra effort to get a specific detail “right” will have a measurable impact. We need informed stakeholders who understand the fundamentals of user experience and for them to believe that these fundamentals can be tested. Usability testing reveals invaluable insights into user behavior. Functionality is foundational to ease-of-use. Applications with great performance were once the exception but have now become the standard. It seems impossible to think that user experience could belong to just one group when it so clearly is everyone’s responsibility.