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7 proven ways to craft a top-notch UX

Habits are the foundation of our lives. Design is no exception — a well-thought-out UX design occurs as a result of a few ‘habitual’ activities. Boring, too familiar yet very helpful — like teeth brushing. 

This article is not about innovative techniques. Everything below is proven by dozens of projects. And time-tested.

So, a well-thought UX isn’t something hardcore. Here are seven activities I recommend focusing on:

1. Put on the user’s shoes

Putting yourself in the user’s shoes takes time. Yes, it’s time-taking, however, it greatly saves time and efforts in the long run — especially on the project architecture stage.

How to dive deep into projects? Sweet stories won’t help you get it. Instead, let me give you a real-life example.

The first project I had to dive deep into was a lottery app.

 I’m talking about the ‘Balls rolling out of the draw barrel’ kind of lottery’

Back then, I knew nothing about lotteries and expected the app to be pretty simple. I didn’t plan to design something extraordinary. While the client suggested me to participate in a random lottery to better understand things.

So, several lottery tickets were bought: some tickets could be tracked via the app, a few other ones — only via the website. Some tickets required watching a lottery TV-show. I was all excited for the whole week — started on Monday but had to wait for Sunday to get real user experience. Simply because Sundays are typical lottery days in Russia.

I went through so many emotions while waiting for the results. Explored A TON of lottery apps, studied their design patterns — after diving deep into that ‘Lottery’ ocean, the patterns I used didn’t seem to be as good as I initially expected.

I didn’t win a prize or something (if it matters) but the experience I gained was HUGE. That project really taught me to dive deep — regardless of what I ever did. Analytics and numbers matter MUCH, however with zero data you have to put yourself in the user’s shoes.

One of my recent projects required becoming a super spy 

Another experience that taught me to put on the user’s shoes was an app for doing a comprehensive people search — it’s currently used as the company’s security solution. To protect it from unsafe employees and prevent using family/friend connections to get a job or promotion. A kind of ‘True Big Brother’ project.

IMO, putting on the user’s shoes helped me come up with a truly reliable app interface. Let me tell you more about what I actually did.

I spent countless hours searching for random strangers. Tried using open-source data tax service databases, STSI data, and phone numbers. Tracked their geolocations via social media, found out where they lived, where they hung out. I found a lot of information about myself as well — even what I didn’t want to ever remember. You’re likely to know that we may forget things, but the Internet never forgets.

This way, I could better understand the ‘searching’ scenarios i.e when you need to find someone with only a name (or with nothing at all), and you need to find that person in the shortest possible time. Sorry, I won’t show you the project screens because the work is NDA protected 🙁

Getting started with this ‘Put in the user’s shoes’ activity works greatly for MVPs. Simply because at this stage, product owners are usually short on money and haven’t precisely defined their targets and hypotheses yet.

2. Observe! Don’t just see

A controversial thing that makes some people feel awkward (especially if they notice you doing this). I tend to observe how people interact with interfaces — relates to not only project works but to overall interface design.

For me, it’s pretty standard to sit next to a 40-something woman and start staring at how she’s trying to send a message on Viber. Or at how someone tries to find an apartment to rent. This helps me categorize potential users, understand the way they think and find possible UX flaws.

Observations help to understand why the user has to waste 10 min on ‘WHAT THE HELL I SHOULD CLICK”. Even if it seems to be stupidly evident

Come on, click that button!

Observations also help to understand why certain products AREN’T used at all. For instance, let’s take a real estate app — do you understand why people use a mobile web version rather than a native mobile app? Because the interface is easier to interact with? Doubt that. How about assuming the fact that web-apps NOT ALWAYS inform users about the existence of mobile app versions? — pretty much true. It means that if they INFORMED, the user would get a more positive user experience (for that, basic entry points need to be clearly defined).

As per my experience, the problem of most designers is not looking at design simplicity from the user’s perspective. The thing is that designs are damn simple for us, EXPERIENCED, KNOW-THE-PATTERNS-LIKE UI/UXers. They aren’t that simple for people who’ve just recently discovered that phones don’t emit radiation.

Quick observing allows me to find the potential user’s mistakes, improve user experience and find out what the app lacks/is overfilled with (‘the more the better’ doesn’t always work, because features aren’t just designed, dev work is also required to bring them to life).

So, yes, staring at people is a shame. Although, who cares if it helps to produce a better outcome, right?

3. Develop empathy

I’ve already covered this ‘Put on the user’s shoes’ thing. It’s time to talk about empathy. Simply because people are about feelings. Designers tend to not use the full empathy power and how wrong they are!

Say, you roughly defined your targets and put on the user’s shoes. What’s next?

Try looking at the world through the target user’s eyes. Firstly, imagine the way you look then focus heavily on emotions and feelings.

You might come up with something like:

Who is it? Is it a man? How old is he? 

– It’s a man. He’s 35. 
(boring, add more details. What did he have for breakfast?)

– For breakfast – nothing. It’s 3.30 PM already, he’s still hungry. 
(why? Come on, focus on feelings!)

– Had a fight with his wife, so she left and took the kids with her. The man, let’s name him Andrew, spent the whole night drinking alcohol. Right now he has a hangover, feels like shit and has no appetite. 
(THERE IT IS!)

Now let’s pretend that you’re that ‘My wife left me’ man. Try to explore the interface

To find hidden UX flaws, try to use the interface at work, at home, when you’re bone-tired or when your energy level is full. For what? Mood, environment greatly influence the way our brain processes information — so, this is the answer.

Say, you want to design an app for salespeople. It means that you need to create portraits of such people + think about indoor and outdoor work environment. Noise, crowds of people all around, fixed deadlines, that non-stop ‘hurry up’ feeling — all these factors help to reveal what requires improvement. This is exactly how ‘carefully tested’ interfaces are created — ‘real-world-field tested’, not ‘simulated-field tested’.

How to develop empathy skills? This may sound weird, but you don’t have to do ANYTHING SPECIAL. Just do habitual stuff: watch movies, read books, listen to music. There’s just one BUT! Go beyond feeling sorry for movie/book characters. Instead, engage with them on an emotional level. Sooner or later, you’re gonna open the Empathy chakra.

The downside of empathy is that you always have to deal with ‘almost real’ emotions and issues — this might cause burnout. Although, I sacrifice it all to achieve my goals.

4. Prioritize things

To stay completely involved in project work, I skip ALL NON-WORK-RELATED activities (my personal sort of resource-management). The way I look, regular meals (nothing to eat? —  okay), my workplace — don’t give a damn about all these things as long as I work on the project.

‘Non-work’ related stuff is skipped until I start feeling discomfort. Or until it affects work performance

“Until I start feeling discomfort. Until it affects work performance.” – I said it for a reason 🙂  

Maintaining balance is a good thing to do. It means that when it becomes possible to push back to take care of myself (won’t ever happen), I’ll relax and get some energy while doing these ‘silly’ daily activities. The most effective way to relax is to do things that add value to your life.

ATTENTION: THE AUTHOR DOESN’T TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE WORDS MENTIONED. YOUR HEALTH IS YOUR HEALTH. KILLING MYSELF FOR THE SAKE OF GREAT DESIGNS IS MY OWN CHOICE. I DON’T WANNA TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR HEALTH.

5. Let yourself get distracted

My practical consideration is that task switching causes better outcomes. Whether you smoke cigarettes (SMOKING IS BAD) or just do nothing.

Seriously?

How does it work? Easy. Your brain switches from thinking to habitual stuff, relaxes a bit, and forms neuronal connections based on what you do. I’m not a neurobiologist at all, however, I have a suspicion that thinking is faster if being based on formed neuronal connections + task switching greatly boosts performance.

Strike a balance. A lot of distractions can cause procrastination

6. Listen to people

Stay focused during conversations — this relates to not only work environments. TONS of important details — about everyday life or user experience — come from people. These details are PRICELESS. Even if you fail to find a way to apply these learnings to your current project — you can benefit from them in the future.

Memorize, ask for details, write them down. This is very important

7. Check not WHAT’s but HOW’s

A super-beneficial activity for people who want to grow and develop critical thinking.

Let me show you the way to use it in design. Listen to all your feelings while interacting with product interfaces (especially with new ones). Break the entire interface into smaller pieces, explaining why a certain pattern (or whatever) works the way it works. Doing this helps to understand why it’s such a challenge to delete an Amazon account or remove cards from XBoxLive. Or why scrolling down Twitter’s feed is such a pleasure.

You’ll also find out why KFC self-service automated machines suck 

I won’t give you the answers. It would be more beneficial to find them all by yourself. Simply try it — you’ll like it:)

What is this all about?

Achieving a great performance doesn’t require doing much, does it? If you also use proven methodologies, the outcome will be even greater (didn’t plan to cover this here).

Anyway, the more you do, the better. A couple of killer habits will just make you stand out from those who neglect to do these ‘secret’ actions (not secret anymore).