It’s not UX unless you involve users

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

There are far too many people with UX in their job titles who have never seen live user research before, let alone having taken the time to actually speak to users. 

But without an understanding of what users actually want and need, how can you deliver it?

If I were asked to design a solution with no user research, I wouldn’t have a clue where to even begin. It’s such a foundational tool that I would be lost without it. Yet this is what a large proportion of UX Designers are asked to do every day. They bang out wireframes and user flows based on nothing but educated guesswork and assumptions. They focus purely on the screens and interface when making their decisions. Yet, in my experience, true UX practitioners worry about the journey people take before and after the interface. They put their emphasis on the entire human experience. It may take a little longer to analyse the research, but it’s a worthwhile investment when your goal is to really enhance the experience.

As an industry, UX is in a precarious place. There is a supply and demand issue right now. Everyone is realising the importance of UX, yet there aren’t enough experienced UX people to go around. This opens the opportunity for charlatans to step into the frame, or for inexperienced designers having UX added to their responsibilities without any background knowledge.

In other professions, such as designers, developers or copywriters, it’s pretty difficult to fake experience or knowledge without being quickly found out. Yet with UX, as long as you can throw together a wireframe or a user profile and speak confidently about users it’s pretty easy to fool someone who doesn’t know any better. While the majority of designers wouldn’t take advantage of this, there are always shady characters lurking on the internet waiting for moneymaking opportunities.

Someone truly passionate about UX would never underestimate the importance of research. It’s their role to design products and services tailored to the people who need them. The target is to make those interactions as efficient, pleasurable, or effective as possible. Which verb you choose here very much depends on the situation. We can’t promise you an exciting or pleasurable tax return, but it should be simple and efficient. Whereas booking a holiday should be a fun experience and never a time-consuming chore.

Without research, we have no understanding of our user base. We can’t know what they need, how we can solve their problems or even what they consider to be important. So, how can we possibly design something that really works for them?

The purpose of good user research is to remove the guesswork, assumptions, and opinions from the decision making process. The end goal is to reach the launch date with confidence, knowing that what is being released will work because it’s been thoroughly researched and validated throughout the process.

There are far too many companies paying lip service to UX process. Using it as a checkbox exercise, and not giving user research the room to breathe within the project timeline.

I believe that any UX person must conduct, or at least observe, user research on a regular basis. It lays the foundation for thinking, allows for empathy and understanding to develop, and keeps solutions grounded in the reality of what users really need. It’s all too easy to get attached to design solutions that are not born from research and then argue features and functionality you, personally, would like to see implemented.

Stop. Look around, and ask yourself why you haven’t tested your thinking with users.

Is it because it’s easier not to? Because you’re afraid of what you might find? Or, is it because you haven’t argued hard enough for the resources to do research? Could you be waiting for permission instead of just getting out there and doing it guerrilla style?

If you want to be a great UX designer, you can’t afford to wait.

Get out there and be with the people you are designing for.

Originally published in Web Designer Magazine