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5 ways to design better

Meagan Thompson // September 7, 2022

User Experience & Design

When you’re a UX designer, it’s tempting to blindly follow “best practices”. They speed up the process and it’s assumed they work for most users. As you tick off all the objectives that clients want out of their digital design while also making sure users can navigate the site or app easily, sometimes ideas and layouts start to become stale. 

So how can you design better? By changing your mindset. 

Here are five ways to do this: 

Tip #1: Let go of your ego

This needs to be rule number one. Always. The whole goal of User Experience is to focus on the experience of the user, right? It’s all in the name.  

You will hopefully be getting feedback constantly from users and research to improve whatever you are working on. Sometimes this feedback may even challenge your personal thinking or opinions. The sooner you realize that everyone thinks differently, the better off you’ll be. If you do talk to users and wholeheartedly disagree with what they are telling you, you are either asking the wrong questions or need to ask MORE questions. (More on this in tip #2) 

Sometimes you’ll find that your favorite solution may not be the best solution for users. If you get too attached to your designs or think you’re always right, you’re going to find yourself in frustrating situations pretty often. 

 

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Tip #2: Continuously ask questions and ask them “correctly”

The word "correctly" is in quotes because there is no truly correct way or perfect question. The rules may change based on the situation. But one thing is for sure, asking questions incorrectly will lead to incorrect conclusions. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that we need to refrain from putting our own biases on users. This means no leading questions and no close-ended questions. This will help our users tell us what their needs are in their own words. 

Once we master that step, we then need to recognize when there are hidden motivations or needs that the user may not be able to articulate. This helps us see if there is a better way our product can serve these needs. 

There is a controversial quote credited to Henry Ford, the man who revolutionized the automotive industry in America. 

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” 

While there is no definitive proof Ford said this, the quote does a good job illustrating the danger of staying at the surface level when talking to users. When you dig deeper here, you’ll find that people want “faster horses” because they want to get to their destination faster. They probably couldn’t care less if it was actually a horse. They are just working with their current knowledge of what is available to them.  

Users might directly tell you they want something, but your goal is to find the “why” behind it. This is why it is so important to practice asking questions in a way that will help you unearth their motivations and needs.

Tip #3: Think about design and user experience in most, if not every aspect of your life.

I am not saying you need to constantly work, but this will eventually become a habit and a natural way of thinking. Observing your surroundings and scrutinizing the things you interact with is one of the best ways to learn about user experience.  

Is there a new application people are raving about? Download it and check it out for yourself and figure out why people are infatuated. Do you have the option to use a kiosk at an airport? Try it out and see if you encounter any pain points while trying to get your boarding pass. Are you having coffee in a busy café? Watch how people follow (or don’t follow) assumed social norms like how the crowd manages the line once they get past the roped section. 

This is a great excuse to people-watch. Just don’t be creepy. 

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Photo by Tina Bosse on Unsplash

Tip #4: Keep Learning

This one is probably a given for any profession you choose, but it is still so important to keep in mind. Technology and the way we interact with it are always changing. There are general guidelines and rules that will likely apply for a long time (think Nielsen Norman Group). But whenever there is a big change in technology (think smartphones) or society (think recent global Pandemic) there are going to be BIG changes in the way we, as humans, interact with the world around us. 

If we keep designing with the context we learned 15 years prior, we’re going to build an application that is relevant 15 years prior. 

Find resources to keep you up to date on the latest technologies and methods. Find meetups (local or virtual) that you can attend to hear from peers and experts about what they are doing. Find some good books to read by asking colleagues for recommendations. Maybe even pick up a digital course from places like Udemy, Skillshare, or YouTube.  

Tip #5: Don’t be afraid to break the rules

When you first start out in the design world, you’ll learn all the best practices and rules. Starting with appealing color combos, standard font sizes, and eventually common layout patterns. 

All of these standards have been developed and honed over time to form the building blocks we use to create new designs. And for good reason, too. In the early days of digital design, this was extremely useful. We were all learning about this new frontier and how to navigate it. 

These foundations helped cultivate predictable, frictionless experiences for users. For example, we generally know what to expect when we click on the three bars of the hamburger menu icon in the top left corner of a screen. 

Use enough of these building blocks to create a predictable experience for users but add some personality to make it memorable. If we all followed the rules exactly as they were written, we wouldn’t be able to tell if we were on Facebook or your great aunt’s blog that she updates every Sunday. All websites would look the same and all our experiences would blend together.  

The balance comes from learning when to break the rules. Next time you have to create a color palette, start with the rules of color theory to find colors that look good together. Then play with a few of the colors by adjusting their shades or tints.  

When you’re building the layout of a new screen using a grid system, maybe alter between 4 columns and 3 columns on a page to add some differentiation between sections. And if you’re feeling extra whimsical, offset an object you are trying to emphasize so it doesn’t adhere exactly to the grid system.  

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Magazines are a great example of how switching up the rules of a layout can help keep interest. (Photo by Roman Skrypnyk on Unsplash)

There are so many fun ways to make your product unique by design. Enjoy the process, and reach out to us if you have any questions or UX needs.

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