Last Tuesday Liquid Light were invited to be mentors at UXBrighton’s UX Portfolio Clinic. It was great to see such a diverse and talented bunch of people interested in UX. This varied from people who just wanted to know more, to people in senior UX roles who wanted to improve their knowledge.
I thought it might be useful to highlight some of the common questions from the event.
“What is UX?”
One of the questions that we were asked most was “What exactly is UX?”. We were asked this by new designers, people tasked with building their company website as well as someone taking a computer science degree.
UX stands for User Experience and encompasses every aspect of how a customer interacts with a company, its services and products.
If you're designing websites and striving to make the experience a positive one for your users, then you're doing UX without even thinking about it. However, you're using your own intuition to make decisions which may not be correct.
UX contains many different disciplines that help you reach better informed decisions. In our digital world these are split between two overlapping areas:
This may involve user testing, analytics, stakeholder interviews and more. These facilitate a better understanding of the end user and offer insights into how people might use your products.
This may involve sketching, wireframing, sitemaps, prototypes and more to explore possible solutions for layout, content hierarchy and the user interface.
“What should be in my portfolio?”
From the perspective of someone reviewing a portfolio, it’s easy to say that a website looks good. However, it’s difficult to know if the goals behind it have been successfully achieved. Seeing the decision making process shows how decisions were made that help to realise those goals. Your thought process is just as important as the final deliverable.
“How do I build up my portfolio?”
It makes me cringe to say this but you’ve just got to do the work! If you’re struggling to find people to pay you to do it you may want to consider offering your services to a good cause for free or setting a personal project. Two or three good examples are enough for most interviews.
“Should I specialise or generalise?”
It’s tempting to think that knowing everything about UX would make you more attractive to potential employees. While being aware of all the disciplines will be welcome, agency work is becoming increasingly specialised. With the practice of UX maturing, there has been an increase in different roles. It’s almost impossible for one person to be an expert in all of these so specialising allows you to focus your attention on one area and become a master of it.
This does however, depend on the size of the agency. A smaller may not have projects with large enough budgets for in depth user research. However, they might look to hire a dedicated contractor on an ad-hoc basis.
It’s also worth noting that most agencies welcome people from all backgrounds. Having a degree or life experience in a walk of life away from the digital world might even be an advantage.
“Should we design with data or just use common knowledge and intuition?”
In reality, your budget will dictate how much time you can spend on UX research so the honest answer is “both”. On one side good design could be described as being user-centric and scientific. Conversely it could also be described as being visionary and artistic. A balance needs to be struck between these two seemingly conflicting views. Steve Jobs didn’t get the idea for the iPad from focus groups but the user interface would have been validated before release.
“How can UX be fitted within budgets?”
As businesses see the advantage of investing in UX it’s becoming easier to sell this into projects. However, UX can be costly and there can still be a reluctance to pay for it, especially when the budget is small.
To sell UX in, it’s important to sell the benefits. UX shouldn’t be seen as a “nice to have”, it should be seen as something that will improve the product and therefore increase return on investment. It’s also important to explain that there are lean approaches to UX that can keep the costs down. Some UX is better than no UX!
Another way to explain it is to offer an after-care / retainer package when the project has been launched. Here UX research could be sold in as way to incrementally improve the product. This might save money in the long term by negating the need to start again every few years.
Throughout the evening we recommended the following books that expand on all our answers above:
- Erika Hall: Just Enough Research
Erika Hall shows how research can be conducted with a lean approach and with minimal budget. She breaks down various techniques into an easy to digest and quick to read way.
- Steve Krug: Don't Make Me Think
Through real world case studies, Steve Krug shows how thinking of the user first enables them to accomplish their tasks as easily and directly as possible, improving their experience of it.
- Donald A Norman: The Design of Everyday Things
This hugely influential book explores why the design of some products meet expectations and needs, while others only disappoint and annoy.
- Bill Buxton: Sketching User Experiences
Another influential book, written at the genesis of UX codification, the book is a breakdown of lean prototyping techniques