29. Mai 2018

UX Design: The Invisible Magic
Behind Everything We Use

This semester of my master's program is a lot about user experience. Makes perfectly sense if you study content strategy. I expected a lot about font size, white space and button colors – the graphic designer in me would have loved that. To my surprise the whole subject went a lot deeper, five levels deep to be exact.

The Five Elements of User Experience

The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett, Illustration: Sarolta Hershey
When I look at an app or a website or anything for that matter, I first evaluate the thing in front of me by its appearance. If it's pretty, it has much better chances to be brought home. OF COURSE, I will check its functionality but you will often see me swearing under my breath because of the "stupid" vacuum cleaner or my fitness tracker, because I checked usability too late.

If you do UX properly you start out with answering the questions: What and for whom? Do you really know? Have you talked to your prospective users? Do you know what they need? Which of their problems are you trying to solve anyways? And what answers will your solution provide?

You work your way up from there. It's a long way, and it's stony, and it will rain often, and you will be hungry and cold, and you'll have to start over many times... Huh, UX design starts to sound a lot like Lord of the Rings! But if you follow the good path you will earn applause and fame and you will be showered with flower petals – not. If you really succeed, no one will ever take notice of your existence. Everything you've done will be taken for granted and only a small group of UX geeks will lay down flowers at your grave.

My Fitness Tracker Doesn't Speak Human or: How I learned to value great User Experience

Like many people, I skip manuals when it comes to software. I have become used to help text when I hover over buttons, I know that most apps and websites will use the same wording for similar things. As I've learned the language of the web, most functionalities have become self-explanatory. Be it on my phone or my laptop – most times I find what I am looking for fast. 

Only when this expectation is disappointed do I become aware of the great work of UX designers – or the lack of it. Last week, I was looking for the function on my fitness tracker that would light up the display when I raise my wrist into reading position. I skipped through all possibilities that would even faintly make sense to me and eventually gave up. Googling the manual I found out that I have to go to "Device" and click "Wake-up gesture". I would have looked under "Display". That I would have still found. My native language of German made it impossible for me though. There it says "Aktivierungsgeste" (translates to "activation gesture"). Just in case you wondered: That expression doesn't mean a thing in German.

Stumbling over this odd wording I skipped through all of the settings and came to the conclusion that they did not build a navigation that felt natural. It looks a lot more like the manufacturer had developed a huge set of great functions and then had trouble squeezing it all into a tiny navigation. After learning about UX design I wondered whether they had done proper user research and whether they had thoroughly tested the fitness tracker. We are talking about a big and well-known brand here, and still I think they probably skimped on some testing in order to get the product to market faster.

An Ode to the Unknown UX Designer

Now, when I come accross an application or a website that simply works, I grin broadly and silently thank the smart designer in the background. I will never know his name but will stay forever grateful.

By the way: Can anyone recommend a small fitness tracker that has GPS built in? Thanks in advance.

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