In UX, Do We Ask First or Just Implement?
UX design carries the same principles as starting out a new venture for one of two reasons; because you are trying to solve your own problem or because you are forced to respond to an impending external force. We are often told to ask, ask and ask and only then should we act. However, if you think, for a second, of the most enduring and noteworthy inventions and ideas, most of them were implemented either by accident, or by filling an immediate need that may not always have been intended for trading.
Sticky notes, for example, were not initially invented as a product that would be sold to a market. Instead, they were made by accident as part of an intention to create a strong adhesive. The outcome was this adhesive that comprised of a chemical compound which allowed papers to stick together and then be pulled apart without a tear. This product did not immediately take to market because there was no clear indication of who might need it or what it could be useful for. Only after marketing it by giving away the product for people to touch and use, did people experience its usefulness or see the need for Post-Its. Now, you can’t imagine a world without them. How tragic that would be!
I wanted to delve into this topic of identifying a need just for the sake of critically thinking about the best way to approach problems, or the best probability of finding a problem worth solving.
I think about the original founders and long-standing contributors of this adopted concept of user experience design, like David Kelley, founder of IDEO, who really shaped Human Centered Design and Design Thinking methodologies. He infused innovation in everyday objects. He described the job of an IDEO designer in this way: “We’re focused more and more on human-centered design; that involves designing behaviours and personality into products.”
This was pushed forward by Steve Jobs — a man who really trusted his gut because he had such an understanding of people’s psyches, but also just because he loved design. To just know that something will work despite what everybody else is telling you, because you have built the confidence, you know the audience, you empathise with the problem, and also because you just love it — that is the fun part of business that makes it all worth doing.
I distinctly recall becoming fanatic of this whole concept of design thinking and thought that it would forever shape my career. What I loved most about it was that it uncapped the limits of what I could work on. It was hard to think about problem-solving whilst defining exactly what it was that I would do to solve that problem — like design a poster, for example. Design thinking, to me, was a creative way to structure things, and a structured way to create things. That probably doesn’t make a whole of of sense. I guess what I am trying to say is that design used to rely upon intuition and a strong will to see something through. These days, there is not much room for that. There are budget constraints and keeping up with big tech. There is a protective, almost fearful approach to making things, where we are so afraid to be wrong that we presume that we already are — to a point that we slow our growth. (That being said, slow growth as a strategy is valid and smart)
I suppose it makes sense, because times change and things improve. Design process improved and became far more efficient. The design Thinking era really helped bridge the divide between design and business; pushing businesses to approach problems creatively, and pushing designers to think and design more strategically.
Not all problems are created equal. Therefore, some problems require the safety net of constant testing. Other times, if resources allow, one can give themselves the room to explore — maybe even detach from the perceived outcome.
Perhaps it helps to have a 360 degree view of the problem. While data has been a groundbreaking tool in informing us about customer behaviours, it rarely tells us the reasons behind those behaviours — the deeper, more inherent reasons. Cold hard data does not particularly articulate those things. It helps us to get closer to a matter faster. We need to interpret that data and measure against other similar set of data in order to get closer to the heart of a matter.
Human beings are very complex. We don’t always know what we want. We exercise our imaginations in varying degrees. This applies to absolutely everyone. That being said, I conclude by stating that in order to build meaningful things, you need to have the humility to try (knowing that few will stand firmly next to you). Staying true to your gut, digging deeper by gathering insights, observing, reenacting, experimenting until you find gold to share with stakeholders — that’s what makes problem solving a real joy.