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Reading: Lessons from The Elements of User Experience


IMG_2922 "Designing products with the user experience as an explicit outcome means looking beyond the functional or the aesthetic."

"The user experience design process is all about ensuring that no aspect of the user's experience with your product happens without your conscious, explicit intent." 

Tradecraft 13 starts up March 2nd. For those of us in the UX track, Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience will be a staple in our diet. That's why I'm revisiting it now.

The book defines the five elements, or planes, of the user experience design process. Garrett emphasizes a strong, methodical process combined with a clearly delineated, user-focused strategy.

The book is rich, and difficult to summarize. Instead, here are three takeaways that have stuck with me in the months after my first read:

1. Strategy First. 

"The more clearly we can articulate exactly what we want, and exactly what others want from us, the more precisely we can adjust our choices to meet these goals." 

I once worked with a couple of guys building a mobile app. The idea was to match up roommates and act as a rent escrow service. Logically, the concept worked--but did people really need it? And what would bring users back?

Startup culture prioritizes leanness and speed--and in the process, may sacrifice clear vision. However, a sound strategy sets the stage for long-term success. According to Garrett, developing strategy means considering two vital questions: "What do we want to get out of this product?" and "What do our users want to get out of it?" By defining values and desired outcomes, you give your team a vision to rally around.

Building a strong strategy also means determining if your problem is real or imagined, pressing or benign, practical or inconvenient. This requires rigorous honesty--and it may mean killing some of your most darling ideas. However, it will benefit you in the long run.

As for the roommate matching app, it never took off. Despite investing months into the project, the founders refused to look critically at their concept. Unable to raise funding, they moved on.

2. Iterate and Reiterate.

"Requiring work on each plane to finish before work on the next can start leads to unsatisfactory results for you and your users... a better approach is to have work on each plane finish before work on the next can finish."

Each stage in the UX design process impacts the options you have in the next one. Your entire product hinges on the correct execution of each successive stage--so there's no time to play it fast and loose.

According to Garrett, you don't have to finish each plane before you start the next. But, you should absolutely finish each one before finishing the next. To do otherwise is to compromise your guiding strategy.

By building flexibility into the design process, you can keep desired outcomes in sight at each stage while remaining open to modifications--within reason.

3. You Can't Be All Things. 

"We can't meet both sets of user needs with a single solution. Our options at this point are to focus on one user segment to the exclusion of the other, or two provide two separate for users to approach the same task." 

Early on, you're going to have to focus on who you want to help--to the exclusion of everyone else. Trying to be all things to all people is a greater risk than choosing a narrow segment--do so, and you're likely to spread yourself too thin and flop.

Choosing your target segment will relate to the problem that you are attempting to solve. Consider the problem: is it too broad? Are you offering multiple solutions? If so, how will these solutions be presented? How will you manage different user needs and perspectives? Time and again, return to user research for insight. "Creating user segments is just a means to the end of uncovering user needs. You really only need as many different segments as you have different sets of user needs."

Stay tuned for a second look at The Elements of User Experience.