Stop Designing User Experience! I Mean It!

User Experience this! User Experience that! Stop it, will you? There’s plenty enough research done about User Experience . Now, can we please start designing? The problem with the Internet is that literally anything can go viral in no time. Same has happened with the keyword User Experience (UX as the nerds call it). Wasn’t aesthetically pleasing design the end goal for every designer? Then, from where did this term UX find place in our brains and how come it dominates our thoughts? Isn’t an aesthetically pleasing design that delights our user enough to keep them riveted?

Well, lots of questions there. I might be acting a bit extreme but I am a bit upset. I am upset with the trend that has forced an average designer to read tons of content about User Experience just to understand whatever it is. For me, UX is totally unrealistic. And whatever is unrealistic cannot be designed. Let me prove my point!

First Things First. What Is User Experience?

Click on the sign up button on any page and it takes you to the signup page which requires minimal user input before registering the user. Well, that is good User Experience. A slow loading webpage is part of UX and an out of location slider is part of UX too. Bad or good, but everything that happens on a website is User Experience.

So, UX is photography, coding, graphics, security, branding, information and design etc. Basically, UX is literally everything.

So, Who Are UX Designers?

Read the pointers above? Now, people who are involved in all those activities and other related activities with respect to that product can be tagged as UX designers. Be it the team lead, the project manager, the graphics designer, the content developer, the think tank team or even the testing team. All of these combine to form a consultancy group of sorts that helps the client to understand the importance of User Experience.

Did you ever stumble upon a client who wanted to focus on User Experience instead of the product? Did anyone ever ask you the question – “Where to find a User Experience Designer?” Well, such situations don’t come up as such terms are designer specific. All that customers look for is, as I always say, aesthetically pleasing design.

User Experience was a term that popped out of somewhere. It must have been some genius web designer with a lot of free time who coined this term. Later on, it grew as it was something new. It helped a lot of designers get a job of a new kind. It helped industries squeeze more money out of their clients. And, it helped writers to write about something which wasn’t heard of before. But, I guess now it is high time that designers take their words back. It is time when designers should give up on the concept of User Experience as it has done nothing new for the design industry. It is time when we stop talking and start concentrating on the aesthetics of a product.

Get It, But Why Not Design User Experience?

Well, I have my reasons. Let me list the most important of them all.

Those who have spent time in the web design industry will agree to the fact that users are very unpredictable. No matter what sort of analysis you perform, at the end of the day you will stumble upon users whom you cannot satisfy. Even when user experience based testing of any web design is done then too results aren’t satisfactory. The reason is very simple. The thought process of users in your dummy testing will never match with the thought process of real-time users. It isn’t really happening no matter how hard you try to imitate the real time user base.

Assume that you are designing a Facebook app which will focus on users from one country. But, what if that app gains fame in other geographical locations? Remember what happened with Orkut? Although Google launched Orkut in the US it garnered all the fame from India and Brazil. Who would have imagined that would happen? If Google knew this then they would surely have designed Orkut especially for India and Brazil.

We will never find out where exactly our hard work will be used and how will it be greeted, if at all greeted! Henceforth, assuming that you can design specifically for User Experience is assuming that you know every user and is a dumb mistake.

Isn’t that self-explanatory? User Experience is a very volatile term in itself. Internet has evolved exponentially in last few years and so has the perception of users towards the Internet. They have become extra vigilant and smart like never before. This results in ever evolving user experience which demands for more.

Now, in such a scenario it becomes impossible for designers to design a product which evolves with the ever evolving user experience. Nobody can design such a product. None! This simply proves the fact that our basic aim should be to design a product which is aesthetically pleasing instead of designing a product which is completely incomplete.

Got It? Now, Start Designing “For” User Experience!

Confused? Well, there is a difference between what I was suggesting before and what I am suggesting now. All that I am asking for is that so-called “UX Designers” should cease to exist. See, I don’t have anything personal against UX designers but I have issues with the concept of UX Design and the way it is used to extract money out of end clients.

Peter Morville’s Facets of UX explain a lot about what User Experience can be. Once you look at the honeycomb above then you will understand what I mean by Designing For UX. There is a subtle difference between Designing UX and Designing for UX but it is important for the ecosystem of the Web Design Industry that designers understand this difference.

Conclusion

Nothing much left to conclude I guess. I might have raised a few eyebrows and shook up some settled UX designers but this is how it is. You just cannot fool the end client just by using some technical terms that have no new meaning. Let us design for the ecosystem of our industry and not for our bank accounts.

Salman Siddiqui

Salman Siddiqui is an alpha geek, design guru and seasoned WordPress critic. Writing, for him, started out of ego but it has become the most luring and enlightening career option of his life. He is walking that extra mile for his freelancing dream.

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Comments

  1. says

    I think what has happened is that as the popularity of the term UX grew, a lot of people who considered themselves designers became UX designers overnight. This really trivialized what User Centered Design is about. At its core, UCD is about the process as much as it is about the overarching guidelines you talk about. It is about how we go about learning about our users via ethnography, field studies, surveys, contextual inquiries, etc. It is about how we document our observations and assumptions through personas and prototypes. And, it is about how we validate these designs. I completely agree that this process is not always necessary. If you are building a phone app or blog, you might not need to be as thorough in requirements gathering, and you might be able to pick-and-choose how you validate your successes. But, I do not think a thorough understanding of the process is a bad thing. And, I do think that on projects that have large capital investments, it does make sense to have a UCD team to help mitigate some of the risk that is associated with product acceptance.

  2. Venkatesh says

    Having been in the application product development and design industry and having some domain expertise for sometime now, I can confirm that usability evolved as the prime focus for applications development in the last 3 to 4 years. Its like, constructing a house and constructing a house with consulting and adopting some changes recommended by an interior designer.

    Both fetch you different value:
    One is less costly but is less researched and hence serves only basic needs of a user. On the other hand a house when constructed with consultation from an interior designer, fetches you the trend advantage and makes it more livable, serves the most detailed specific needs that you have the most. The point that article author made is – this job was being done by the architects always without having a dedicated resource doing it for them, however I can see in reality that interior consultants bring value to the aesthetics as well as price of the finished product. Indeed its costly to pursue but when finished product fetches better value, is more closer to end user expectations, gives the product a competitive advantage over other vendors in the market, the general take has been – pursue it, brainstorm during design discussion with this perspective too !

    Degree of maturity of end users:
    Usability at a high level is about how simple it is to use a business application, to get the context of an action/information on a page , how easy it is to comprehend the information presented on the page and how quickly a user can perform a transaction with fewer clicks. Since ages, one of the thumb rules of presenting ideas/ information through presentations to diversified audience was to use as many pictures as possible to reflect ideas/thoughts/information as it is a belief that pictures speak thousand words. But if we look at our legacy applications, most of them actually missed this point in their design, the reason being, the impetus was always on functionality, content, detail and the priority was always to exist than to distinguish. With thousands of easy to use applications , frequent use of easy to use social networking sites, users today have matured as an audience who want to be able to do anything just as quickly as possible which means, they want to be able to comprehend quickly, provide information quickly, they want nice look and feel which holds them on the page, they want to complete their action as quickly as possible with confirmations and other incidental requirements. In order to implement all of this at the same time, usability thoughts are required, they are imperative. Most often, while discussing functionality, in olden days, the ease to use was given a lower priority resulting in robust applications but not so easy to use.

    Functionality v/s Usability:
    Application functionality has always been and must always remain the prime focus for functional experts but consulting and reviewing the design for ease to use and transforming the design to make users comfortable would only make a design more adoptable , in other words more saleable.

    As far as I have known, product companies in entire industry have identified usability as one of the most sought after needs of an end user, and hence it is high time, everyone invests in building great UX teams.

  3. Jesse says

    The first time i read this article, I wanted to lash out with anger ! I was totally against your perspective. Then I started to put a little more thought into it. Now, I dont totally agree with you, but I at least understand your perspective. The way i came to this conclusion is pretty simple. For the first 5 years of my career I designed print and web for Pharma ads (ugh). After being fed up with advertising I changed my career path towards designing Business solutions. This includes wireframes , whiteboarding, consulting, concepting on napkins, the whole “9 yards ” of the “UX Designer”. Anyway, the point is, is that even though the thought process was entirely different, I easly adapted to this new style of process, because at the end of the day Im still a designer. Understanding User experience should be a skill set just as much as Photoshop , illustrator , or whatever tool you use to create your design. But also you can look at it as someone who builds houses. they are construction workers, but they are skilled within a particular part of that overall build(IE tile setter, carpenter, roofing,etc), so wouldnt you call them by their skillset ? I work with designers who primarily focus on the UX and not esthetics. Food for Thought.
    Anyway, thanks for the article, it was quite interesting.

  4. says

    This is an interesting discussion. To me it seems to be also about words and meanings. At the present time the definition of user experience seems to be on a meaning extension, as it has already happened to the term of design. Everything is design – depending on how you look at it. This seems to repeat with the meaning of the word user experience. The problem lies in the universal application of the two words.

    In principle, the introduction of a new word can be helpful, because every new word also allows new perspectives, which in turn can enable new methods and new approaches. Definitely, the object of observation doesnt change by this.

    I assume that the word user experience has arisen out of a need, in an age, in which the users had moved out of the development view too far. So it was the goal to get more attention on usability. A problem arises only, if the context of a word is expanded too much. Because then misunderstandings are inevitable.

  5. says

    I thought this site was mostly shit, but the occasional useful tidbit has kept me coming back. After this ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS article, I won’t be doing that anymore. Experience design is a vital part of the process. The author clearly has no idea what experience design is, or what it truly yields. A good house needs a sturdy frame and a solid foundation. You can’t start with the freaking drywall.

    I don’t know what kind of clients you’re working for, but several of mine have asked for/paid for UX design and research. I’m the person they hire after you screw everything up. :)

  6. Diego says

    Obviously, the writer knows nothing about how most user experience designers work.if you think everything a website needs is an aesthetically pleasing design then you are living in the static web of the mid 90s. It takes a special kind of professional to research and design interactions that enhance the experience of people using a website. The writer doesn’t mention anything about designing web apps, mobile apps, and complex interactions. You can have a very aesthetically pleasing site that the user cannot figure out how to use. We have been where the wrter suggest we should be and we already know that doesn’t work. The writer should stop advocating for a shitty web.

    • says

      I feel that the author does not understand what goes into looking at the functional requirements of a good design, if all he wants is for it to be aesthetically pleasing then go paint pretty pictures. If you want some thing that is functional and that meets the business requirements take User Experience in to consideration. I am a UX Designer, I care less about the aesthetics then how the end design functions, I build interactions not one dimensional images, I do not want to win a Webby I want my clients to make money, everything I do is geared towards driving revenue, I communicate between the stakeholders and the developers, I can speak with business terms then easily transition into writing a PRD, I am not a graphic Designer, instead of looking at how to make subtle design decisions I look at how the design can be optimized for the web. I am numbers driven, I look at analytics more then you look at Deviantart, I know how the users interact with the site it is my job to figure out the why. Is this a tough position yes, unforeseeable five years ago yes. How many hats do you wear on a day to day basis, I wear more.

      • Salman Siddiqui says

        Ho Ho Ho! You are lucky that right now I am in good mood :)

        Anyways, that is your perspective buddy. This world wouldn’t have been running if it wasn’t for various perspectives that live on it. It bumps up the competition and thought process.

    • Salman Siddiqui says

      I knew that I will have to face backlash when this article goes live so your reaction is totally understood. I guess you didn’t notice my major point. As Chatman said in comments below, we are web designers and UX is implicit in our work. We are over doing it if we start using UX explicitly just to give the process a complex look.

      • Konstantin says

        I am very disturbed by the naivety of this article.

        I find it difficult to believe that you are concerned with UX “implicitly” when you say that designers should “start concentrating on the aesthetics of a product.”

        Please, consider, that a design which concentrates on aesthetics instead of UX is inherently flawed. You are then simply drawing pictures, not designing interactions which a user has with your work.

  7. says

    lol – super article – one so super to be the best one I read in this week. I like the point 3 – and hence proved – no one can design a fool proof UX – it evolves with time. A UX Designer cannot judge how n number of different users with react in n number of different ways.

  8. Santa667 says

    Personally I think designers should stop circle jerking themselves and focus a bit more on the user. All I see are designers that do their best to win awards and awe eachother, if you actually ask them who they are designing for they stare blankly at you. That’s what caused the term UX to become popular. That’s what caused people to actually use relevant research about how people work in interface designs.

    I work as a programmer, and I’ll happily let my designers design a new fancy way of navigating a web page or application, but if I don’t intuitively understand how and not enough guidance is given, then there’s no way in hell our users will figure it out, and then I’m not doing it. That’s a tough challenge, pass that, and I’m willing to bury the UX Designers. For me there’s still too much crap made, especially in the ad business.

    I do agree that UX designer is a made up position though. And people that ask for these roles often ask that they are a web designer, programmer, media mogule and people expert all at once. Anyone who accepts that responsibility needs a reality check.

    • Salman Siddiqui says

      Let me know when you are burying any one of them. I want to wet my hands too :P

  9. Chatman R. says

    I’m web designer/developer. That’s what I am, and that’s what I call myself. User experience is implicit in my work and the value I offer to clients. I have never once felt the need to make it explicit through a title.

    • Salman Siddiqui says

      So true. I hope that all of us start thinking in the same way. It hurts when our community itself creates technical terms to squeeze out more money from clients.

  10. Elizabeth says

    A little bait and switch but good point re design FOR user experience. Hopefully a good one. While there are a number of points here I would argue, it wouldn’t be any fun since you already know what they are. So I will try and keep this contained. No matter what you call the role (IA, interaction design, usability, ethnography, etc.) is not something every designer just knows how to do. Aesthetically pleasing sucks without the facets of UX, just as much as a web site that has all though facets but is not aesthetically pleasing. Do you really not know designers that are great at design but suck at understanding the users of that design? What do you do with them? I still want to work with them because they are amazing at beautiful and creative ideas and paired with a ux counter part you will make an amazing product. Clients are only wasting their money if you aren’t delivering what they are paying for. So if you are giving them pretty but not valuable, useful, usable and so on, then your right. BTW – all that annoying research and useless dummy user testing has led to systems and products that we are all glued to today.

    • Salman Siddiqui says

      As I keep saying, web designing is an art and every day will teach you something. Even I would want to work with designers who cannot understand the users even when they create amazing designs. They have so much that we can learn from.

      Your last point was like ripping my whole effort apart :)

      I agree that it has led to the system to which we are glued to but it has also led to loads of crap that is overshadowing some of the amazing chunks of the Internet.

  11. David says

    After a pretty frustrating 6 months spent “working” with a “Senior UX Designer”, I couldn’t agree with you more.