There are some phrases you might hear designers and project managers use when discussing user experience. Some of them are true, some of them should be put out to pasture. Here’s a selection:
You are not your user
Translation - Site owners/designers/developers shouldn’t assume they know what the users need.
If you’ve been in a design meeting with me, you have almost certainly heard me use this as a retort when someone claims to know what should go on a page. I could probably just put a recording of me saying it every 60 seconds in the corner, and no one would notice I was missing.
I’ll be the first to admit this phrase is over-used, but that’s because there are still too many people who think they know what their users want based on very little evidence. Research is everything. As a website owner or developer you probably already have much better computer literacy than many typical users.
If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would have told him faster horses
Translation - This is often trotted out as a counter argument to UX research. It’s essentially saying “Users are idiots, we experts know best”.
Now, there are examples in history where visionaries have done something so avant-garde that nobody even knew they wanted it yet. But you have to ask yourself, are you really on a level with Henry Ford or Steve Jobs? Maybe lay off the motivation podcasts for a while.
UX should be a mindset, not a step in the process
Translation - UX should involve everyone at every step and not just be tacked.
Ok so yes, UX is a mindset. It’s great to be able to appreciate the need for research and iteratively improving a product. However, not everyone is good at empathy, why force Audrey in accounts to think about user journey analysis and potential for increased user retention.
Furthermore, it’s just not practical to stop a project every 5 minutes to audit the user experience so far. It’s perfectly logical to have some milestones to do a proper run down of the UX to date, just don’t be too rigid with things.
People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit; they want a quarter-inch hole
Translation - People don’t buy products they want the results
As a fan of DIY I have definitely looked longfully at tungsten carbide drill bits. But it’s true, most (normal) people aren’t interested in the means to an end, they just want the end. So your website should focus on what value you are providing and not get too bogged down in the specifics.
Never underestimate the stupidity of the user
Translation - Users can make mistakes on tasks you might think are simple.
Now aside from being just plain mean, this statement is using very broad brush strokes. Let's not forget, quite often YOU are a user of your own product. That said, I have sat through user testing sessions biting my lip so hard at a user’s actions I might swallow my own chin.
But never assume that if a user is having difficulty it’s because they are stupid. There is always something you can do to make it easier for them. Decent form validation with descriptive error messages, clearer copy or a more intuitive process.
Discover the do's and don'ts of form validation here.
People don’t scroll
Translation - everything should be high up on the page.
There’s a-whole-nother conversation to have around ‘the fold’, given the variety of different device resolutions it’s impossible to establish a fixed point. But the main problem with this statement is that users DO scroll, a lot. Since the onset of social media millions of people spend their days scrolling, especially on mobiles. Some people estimate that by aged 25 a person has likely scrolled about 70 miles on their smartphone.
When escalators break, they actually become stairs
Translation - You should build in graceful degradation
The idea here is that you should build systems that if they fail, they will still work to a fashion. It’s always useful to remember before you build something with cutting edge technology, what will happen on old browsers or the users’ connection is slow. Although the metaphor falls over as usually a health and safety man turns up and tells you to take the steps.
Users don’t read
Translation - users don’t read boring content
Users do read. There is plenty of proof of users engaging with text content, going on deep dives in research journeys. However, big blocks of intimidating, unformatted copy are often ignored or just skimmed.
Some quick tips:
- Break key selling points up in to bullet points.
- Break up text with images, stats and differing types of content.
- Use formatting like bolds, italics, colours, fonts and size to differentiate copy, just be consistent.
UI vs. UX - Ketchup
Translation - User Interface Design is the look, User Experience is the whole experience
Quite often when UI and UX are compared, a photo of two Heinz Ketchup bottles is brought out. An old upright ketchup bottle is UI - it looks ok, the labelling is all good and someone’s put a lot of thought in to the aesthetics. The new, lid-down bottles are supposed to represent UX, because some bright spark has thought about how to make it better to actually use.
Here’s the thing though; with either bottle you still get a tangy red sauce. If you have a pretty website or app with a terrible user experience, you might not ever get the result you want, you might abandon your search completely or go elsewhere. Just remember, you can’t turn a website upside down and bang the bottom, no matter how much you want to.
Pave the goat path
Translation - Make unintended user journeys an accepted alternative.
It’s all too easy to think there should be one approach to a purchase or lead generation funnel. However, sometimes users will find another way, perhaps going via a landing page you’d forgotten about or utilising the site search unexpectedly. Paving the goat path refers to making these journeys as easy as possible rather than forcing them back on the path you expected.
Problem is though, I grew up around farm animals, and on many occasions they would end up stuck with their heads through a fence or in someone else’s field. Users; not that different. Sometimes they will end up in a complete dead end, going down a rabbit hole of case studies and downloadable brochures. Rather than create a spaghetti junction of paths leading back to where they should be, sometimes it’s easier to just block these goat paths off.
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