In this third article in my series of reflections on user experience on Curaçao I want to address an obvious but important lesson: let’s all stop torturing our users. Please…? In the previous article I gave some insight in the current state of UX on Curaçao. As much as people can get things done – mostly – I worry at night about those poor users sighing: “It’s all we’ve got…”
Currently, we have so much UX knowledge at our fingertips that we really can give users more than they’ve got. Easily. In fact, a little UX goes much further here on Curaçao than it does in other parts of the world. And UX designers have a lot more leeway to make a difference.
Where good UX is standard, innovation is hard
With the vast numbers of web and software applications available nowadays, competition is always on the horizon. Users have great freedom to choose and they can be picky. When all options are well-developed and functional, users will choose those systems that work particularly well, exceed their expectations, surprise them. The user experience is what makes the deciding difference. Bad or non-existing UX simply isn’t an option in a world where good UX is everywhere.
And good UX is everywhere nowadays. A lot of knowledge has been generated by testing existing solutions and iteratively improving them. Corporations and usability experts alike – such as Yahoo and Nielsen Norman Group – engage in documenting UX design patterns online for others to view and reuse. With this knowledge up for grabs, everyone can use the latest patterns and SEO techniques to make sure their application or webpage meets people’s expectations and is found by the masses.
What is there left to do for UX designers if all this is already tried and tested? Searching for innovation in a world where so much UX knowledge and solutions already exist can drive UX designers into uncharted territories such as smart-watches or Internet-of-Things applications.
Alternatively, they may try to avoid those lauded design solutions in a desperate search for innovation: “I can’t do that – our competitors are already doing it that way.” However, it still remains to be seen if a new solution lives up to the old ones – if it is as user-friendly, as efficient, as attractive. Reinventing the wheel is seldom a good idea and innovation at the expense of usability is detrimental to any business.
When a little UX goes a long way
Here on Curaçao we are not in such “dire straits” caused by technological progress. As I have shown in my previous article, we have yet to make such progress where good UX becomes the norm rather than the exception. There isn’t a plethora of options to choose from, so a system that somewhat does the job will have to do.
I see users muddle their way through their tasks with systems that are developed with a focus on functionality rather than usability. In a world without alternatives, users are oddly resilient. No matter how many times a task fails because of bad, or non-existing, UX, they will return because they have nothing else. No matter how complicated a task, they will learn to do it. They will learn to manually enter all that data that could easily be pre-filled. They will learn to click that nonsensical icon to bring up that specific dialog they need.
It makes me itch to get involved with my UX loupe. It makes me want to classify all those usability issues in the new release as “blocking” so that they will be taken on by the developers. It is unnecessary to torture our users so. All the UX knowledge and design patterns are there for the taking but they are currently not implemented in existing systems. Applying this knowledge takes fairly little effort if it’s done at the right moment, and it will hugely improve the users’ experience. Because someone listens to them; watches them; understands what they actually need, instead of what they have been forced to work with.
It’s never too early to start thinking about UX
Of course functionality is important – if there is no functionality, there is nothing to be made user-friendly. And if the alternative is working with pen and paper, a software system that does the job is a great improvement. I have always been a believer of “form follows function” but UX isn’t merely form, it isn’t colors, fonts, and alignment. It includes – to aptly use some architectural metaphors – blueprint, foundation, construction methods, finishing touches and building tests.
Therefore, UX needs to be included from the start of a project. There isn’t that much you can do as a UX designer if you are being called in at the last minute to propose some “quick wins”. Just like there isn’t that much you can do as an architect if you are called in to build a foundation after the house has already started sagging.
That is why we like to work alongside software architects and developers to make sure that usability and user interaction are being considered from the get-go. Software development has a tendency to influence UX, for example through technical limitations, but more so UX needs to influence development.
As UX designers in a developing technological world, we need to realize when and how we can make an impact on user experience. We need to not be afraid to use tried-and-tested methods and solutions in favor of innovation at all cost. Huge improvements can be made by adding even a little bit of UX design; exponential progress with UX as an integral part of a project.
In my next and final reflection, I will address external limitations we sometimes encounter in our efforts to make user-friendly applications, and the increasing expectations users form by seeing examples of good UX on a daily basis.
Find out more about our UX Designer vacancy. Click here.