UX is more than visual design
When many people think of User Experience design, they think organized information architecture, clear navigation, understandable copy, and nice contrast between colors. These elements are certainly a big part of making a good user experience, but I think it goes deeper than that. For me, it cuts to the core of the product’s intention. The most telling question I ask to define the quality of User Experience in a product is this:
Does the experience of this product make people better versions of themselves?
That’s it. All the other elements I mentioned above fall under that question. If the navigation is confusing, the user feels stupid, and becomes self-conscious and frustrated (a couple of the the least productive feelings that exist). If there’s a disorganized information architecture, the user spends more time making a mental map of the concepts in front of them rather than taking action to use the product. It’s all connected.
Yet, it’s even more than that. UX design is such a wide field, encompassing many digital design disciplines:
The combination of these many different fields symbolize a holistic manifestation of the “soul” or “human element” of the product. UX design is the process through which empathy, psychology, business logic, and artistry converge to create stories and experiences.
“Design creates stories, and stories create memorable experiences, and great experiences have this innate ability to change the way in which we view our world.”
— Christian Saylor
The power of UX design
The power to create stories, and align every layer of depth within that story at each point in your design is the true power of the User Experience. We know that design decisions can significantly alter human behaviors. Take an Organ Donation form for example. How could you get more people to mark themselves as donors? It’s as simple as making them opt out as opposed to opting in. How significant was the impact?
Very. A simple change to making people opt out of donating organs vs opting could result in 5–10x as many people opting in! From one change to a single element on the form!
So, now we know the power of design in creating stories, experiences, and making more people willingly (or unknowingly) agree to donate their dead body parts.
For more on shaping behaviors through design, check out this awesome article by Eugen Eşanu https://uxplanet.org/designing-better-choices-for-your-users-49f12d83b9ef
How to use your power
Do you want to use your power in designing products to create an empowering experience for the user, and even society as a whole? Or are you trying to create an experience that sucks the user in to using your product habitually without any real long term rewards?
Many popular companies use predatory UX design practices. You know those useless notifications you get from extremely tangential events on Facebook? Who needs a notification for every single post in some group they followed a few years ago? This is a conscious decision on Facebook’s part. They know you get a hit of dopamine every time you see that red notification indicator, so they set the defaults to bombard you with as many notifications as possible, without even asking you up front if you want to receive notifications.
Notifications to keep you addicted to checking various platforms are one form of UX design used for business success, to the detriment of user empowerment. How about when you’re actually on the platform?
Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram are designed to keep people scrolling, with negative effects. Their goal is to keep your attention on the platform for as long as possible, so they can serve up ads to you. Part of reaching this goal is to provide neutral prompts so people are influenced solely by the social comparisons that are an ingrained part of our psychology and not any positive mindfulness that could easily be promoted by the platform.
Keeping up with your friends has turned into a game of who can create the most perfect online persona? What if Facebook, instead of using this phrase:
used a prompt like this:
Wouldn’t you respond more positively (and maybe even stop and think about your blessings) after reading the second prompt? Wouldn’t you want your feed to consist of people who post in an appreciative frame of mind? Even these little details have immense power in changing people’s attitude, mood, and behavior.
For more on using design for human purposes, check out this article: https://uxdesign.cc/what-is-humane-product-design-really-546fff0b026
As designers, I believe we have an ethical need to design things with the significance of our power at the forefront of our minds. It’s certainly difficult to do when trying balance business goals and user experience, but it’s a habit that would serve our users and society as a whole in yet unexplored delightful ways.
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