Ed and Miriam talking. Something's going to hit the fan soon.
Something's gotta hit the fan!

As designers, we want to give others the best experience we can. We spend long hours designing apps and websites that should make the lives of others a bit easier. Look at your smartphone’s screen; there are so many colourful icons on it. Each of these things opens an entire universe of options. People who created these apps had your best interest in mind. But if all these pieces of software are good, why aren’t you using most of them? Why aren’t they clicking with you?

Things that don’t click

Making software today is not as difficult as it was even five years ago. This is the benefit of progress; our tools became easier to use, and there are more of them than ever before. It’s also not that hard to wake up with an idea — the world around us is so stimulating! And, within days of waking up, we can have a product or a service that we can sell. Yet, in order for this to happen we need a secret step that not too many think about. If we miss this step, we have a high chance of failing. As do many startups everywhere, every week.

The danger of solution-based approach

What is the secret? As designers of things, we need to check whether the thing we want to build would actually help anyone. When designing, we should start from looking at a problem, rather than jumping into a solution. If we understand the problem, we can make sure that the solution matches someone’s needs. We can ensure that the solution isn’t only our vision of how to solve it.

I’ll give you an example. It might be that you share your living space with a partner, or you live with a flatmate. Imagine that you are waking up early on a Saturday morning and want to surprise them with breakfast. You like beans on toast a lot. In fact, you are a fan of this simple dish. In your view, the world would be a better place if everyone indulged in this delight every day. So, you quickly decide to make beans on toast for Jack or Mary. When they wakingwake up, though, they tell you: ‘It’s very nice of you, but I don’t like beans that much and I can’t eat gluten. Sorry, pal.’

Wouldn’t it be easier if you asked them what they wanted first, before cooking?

How to design mindfully?

What can you do with this knowledge? If you are about to design an interface, or even embark on a journey to a bigger product, stop for a minute and think. Consider the following:

What is the real problem of the person you are trying to help? Did you give them a chance to express it? Talk to them. If you can, observe them as they’re dealing with a specific problem. You will discover many tiny things that they do. You wouldn’t necessarily see these things if you just asked them to tell you what they do, instead of observing them. How does the context of what they do influence their behaviour? How should this affect your solution?

How much of what you want to do is based on what would work for you? We all have preferences, and our designer brains often make us think that what’s good for us is best for everyone. Listen to your end-users. You will find that they may want to approach their problems in a different way.

Have you opened up a dialogue with other people involved in making this work? Your colleagues, other designers? I believe that everyone involved in software development is a designer (I’ll write about this soon). They will bring their unique perspective to the game. You can also ask them to go after people to find out what their real problems are.

It’s about the rationale

Problems first, solutions second. It might be contrary to what others have told you: ‘don’t give me problems, give me solutions’. Well, this might have worked in the world of 70’s corporate America. It won’t work any more in our digital reality. Once you know what is the nature of a problem you are trying to solve, you can design a solution that will work. If your boss asks you to design something and can’t tell you what problem it is solving, that is a red flag. As a UX designer you might want to pick it up. Ask around, do some research. It’ll help.

How does UX work as a vital part of every business?

Join me at a free webinar on the 28th of April.

I want to help you understand what UX designers do in order to help businesses that employ them. I would also like to explain to you why it is crucial for every business to invest in UX — and how to sell this idea to stakeholders. This is the second webinar in the series. There will be more. Stay tuned.

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