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Book Review: Practical UX Design

June 5, 2017

Practical UX DesignIn Practical UX Design, Scott Faranello talks to UX designers and others about the harsh reality that User Experience is still an often-misunderstood field. User Experience is about much more than just user interface design and product usability testing that occurs late in a product-development cycle. User Experience requires a holistic mindset that considers value creation for users, customers, and stakeholders. Scott believes it is very important to speak about User Experience outside the field of User Experience. Our professional peers need to understand what User Experience can do so we can practice the profession in the most effective way.

Scott talks about numerous cases in which companies and UX designers have considered—or failed to consider—how people will use a product in real-life situations, as well as the business impacts of their decisions. He discusses the myth that Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses,’” noting the fact that this quotation cannot reliably be attributed to Ford. More importantly, what Ford actually did shows that he did keep his customers at the forefront in his mind. Ford perfected the assembly-line method of manufacturing so customers would have access to affordable cars. Throughout his book, Scott provides many examples, pictures, and links to additional resources on the Web.

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Scott also describes the conditions that are necessary to encourage creativity within an organization. He emphasizes that it is especially difficult to be freely creative within typical business environments that are very quantitative and focused on hard data, then discusses how to address that quandary.

Good Design: Meeting Users’s Needs

In Scott’s exploration of what constitutes good design, he includes an apt quotation from Don Norman, which shows why it can be so hard to quantify what makes a good-quality design.

“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible.”—Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things

Scott says that good design is not enough. A product must, first and foremost, fulfill a true user need, thus motivating users to incur the cost of change. In other words, a design solution must provide a logical conclusion to a situation. Scott offers a nice discussion—with examples—of the foundations of information architecture (IA) and design patterns. He focuses on architect Christopher Alexander’s Fifteen Fundamental Properties of Wholeness, reminding us that empty space is an element of design, too.

Evangelizing User Experience

Scott examines UX strategy and ways in which UX professionals can help business stakeholders to understand that better UX design leads to better business outcomes. However, he acknowledges the ugly reality that, at some companies, management simply does not understand how encompassing the role of User Experience actually is—equating it only with usability testing and wireframes.

Even worse, some companies and product teams see UX professionals as those who point out the flaws in current designs and create work demands that put additional pressure on already strained timelines and budgets. Many companies still think of User Experience as a nicety rather than a necessity. Many others pay lip service to having great product user experiences, then drive their teams to create designs in very little time, at the least cost possible, excluding the UX team from participating at the beginning the product-development cycle and from evaluating a product’s success. Even at companies that value User Experience, many UX teams find themselves underutilized because of time, budget, or other constraints.

Aligning Product Design with Business Goals

For User Experience to be better valued as a profession, Scott says UX professionals must consider the business needs at the core of a product-development effort. In addition, he encourages UX professionals not to wait for opportunities to come to the UX team, but instead, to actively seek out people in other disciplines to learn what problems User Experience might be able to help them solve. Not only might they get a much-needed solution, they could get it at a low cost, making the UX team more valuable throughout the company.

Scott provided the necessary motivation for UX professionals to align product design with a company’s business goals:

“[Knowing the business needs] provides UX with the number one element needed to reach the highest level of UX maturity: business knowledge.”—Scott Faranello, Practical UX Design

UX professionals must also offer quantitative proof of the benefits of User Experience after the fact. Scott discusses how to demonstrate the tactical and strategic benefits of User Experience, taking into account financial, operational, and user considerations. This can be challenging because different companies—and even particular teams within the same company—use distinct metrics to measure success. However, it is important to show the worth of User Experience through these different metrics. We must measure the success of User Experience using the same language businesses use in evaluating their success in meeting their goals. We must make it as easy as possible for businesses to achieve better designs and help them to perceive the benefits of this achievement.

UX Tools and Continuous Learning

Scott discusses many UX-design tools that are useful in the course of product development:

  • personas
  • ethnography
  • human-centered design
  • journey maps
  • usability studies
  • Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation (RITE)
  • usability-study reporting
  • visual design
  • Cynefin Project Planning Methodology
  • Strategize’s Business Model Canvas
  • wireframes
  • prototyping

In addition to taking advantage of these tools, Scott encourages the reader to engage in continuous learning, because the art and practice of User Experience is always evolving. Not only will there be new tools to try and new UX ideas to discuss, there will always be new products and technologies that require a good user experience to attain their highest success.

Conclusion

Scott advises the UX community to remember why it is important to engage in the UX professions:

“As I started writing and outlining the book, I quickly realized that it was impossible to talk about designing better without explaining why it mattered. As a skill and field, UX is more than tips and tricks. It is a lifelong pursuit of understanding what motivates different people and how to deliver that through design…. For some, UX is a job. For others, it’s a passionate pursuit of knowledge and history that brings us closer to embodying the work we deliver.”—Scott Faranello, Practical UX Design 

Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixAs Principal of Lone Star Interaction Design in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research. Janet is the Managing Editor of UXmatters.  Read More

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