I was at a networking event with technology founders the other day, and I told a guy that I design software. He looked at me puzzled, and asked what I meant by that. “You know, I said, UX design.”
I’m Not a Visual Designer (But I Do That Too)
“Oh,” says he, “you design the gooey.”
Never mind that I haven’t heard the phrase “gooey” in about fifteen years, it was clear that he thought designing was graphic design. As in, making the buttons and icons for software.
That’s not what I do. And that’s not what user experience design is.
We Really Need Better UX
I’ve started to notice that there is a UX trend at the moment–these days, all the graphic designers are called UX designers. And all creative directors are calling themselves Directors of UX, even though they are just visual design managers. Which is frustrating, because we really need better UX in our industry, but just calling a visual designer a user experience designer isn’t fixing anything.
Every technology company knows they need user experience design because their users are frustrated and letting them know it. But most of these companies don’t know what user experience design is. They think it’s a better visual interface, which of course is part of it. But a better interface without an understanding of users’ goals, use cases, flow through the application, the whole information architecture is like lipstick on a pig. The user experience isn’t getting any better, but companies are feeling as if they’re doing something about the problem.
You can’t “pretty up” what simply doesn’t function well.
What Software Design Is
User experience design is software design. I am like an architect designing a building. Architects figure out where the doors and windows go. Architects figure out how people will use the building. That they will cook a dinner, then carry it to the dining room to eat it. So don’t put the dining room at the other end of the house from the kitchen.
Architects figure out what makes more sense when building, too. For instance, if you put bathrooms near kitchens the plumbing can be less expensive and more efficient. They design the lighting and the flow through the house both from the standpoint of efficiency in construction and livability.
That’s exactly what I do when I design software. I figure out what users want to do, how they do it now in the offline world, and then invent a better way for them to do it online. I look at user goals, their flow through the application, their pain points (things that drive them crazy) and try to make that more accessible, easier to understand, and less painful.
Designers Aren’t Builders and Builders Aren’t Designers
Architects don’t build the house, the construction workers do that. And neither should the plumbers, electricians and framers be designing the house. Each has a job to do, and if they work together they create a great house. We’ve all seen that house where the guy living there just started adding on rooms, building from the hip, and we know how crazy those houses are.
Engineer-Designed Software Looks Like This
That, unfortunately, is what most software looks like to the users and the UX designers. We are still in the dark ages of software design.
What Software Designers Do
Software designers don’t code the application, but we do know how it should work both from an efficiency in building perspective, and from the end goal of making it intuitive and usable for the customers.
Yes, I might also design the Look & Feel. Or, work with the visual designers to get the right look and feel. I don’t mean that’s not also important. But the UX designer is looking at the structure and function of the application first, the pretty colors and icons last.
To learn more about software design and useability, go to the masters here. Also, read this book, and this one, and watch this funny video. To just get a start on the whole topic, read this. You’ll love it.