As a visual discipline, Graphic Design has its own specific norms and rules. When the time comes to begin working in the user experience field, it’s not only about screen and button design, but also about getting to know new variables that are part of it.
In this article, based on my brief experience in UX design so far, I’d like to share the most important points to keep in mind when a graphic designer crosses over to UX design.
1. Users aren’t idiots, they’re your “Best Regards” friend
In every design field, a graphic designer should note that the user’s or receptor’s interaction a designed piece is the most important factor of all (we work for people). However, this is not always the case, as we designers are used to hiding behind our ego and computers, creating what we think is the best. We just don’t pay too much attention to the real experience of a piece in its exact environment. We don’t ask ourselves or research things like: “Has the poster I designed fulfill the purpose or reason behind its creation? Can everyone understand it, or is it ambiguous? Could it be better?” Of course, in some cases, post printing or delivering corrections is impossible.
In UX Design, the key element is the user. We must constantly test our designs to measure the use that people can make of it, to watch, learn, and improve. I remember the first usability test I made with my startup wideo.co: I almost got a migraine. “Why can’t they just click that button? It’s easy, it’s ready, it’s there! Come on! Are you blind or what?!”
I wasn’t used to seeing my designs in action. Something that Dave McClurerepeated to us constantly while we were being incubated in 500Startups was: “Get out of the f$@%ng building!” He was so right. UX must develop from user feedback and from its success in live action, defying the laws that we’ve preassembled in the lab.
2. Design is functionality
Steve Jobs once said: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Once you get into usability design, it is not only about the visual aspect in terms of beauty or comprehension anymore, but we must synergize that with how the product develops in the user’s hands. As morphology and content are always in dialogue, UX design shouldn’t be considered as a separate layer in the production line of the product. In fact, in many modern companies that understand its value and impact, it is being taken into consideration from the very beginning of every business’ important choices. A payment form or pricing page with a bad UX design may directly affect sales, for example.
When you’re responsible for product usability, you face the need of constant testing, improvement and new hypothesis generation.
Errors and things to improve on will be present once the product reaches real users outside the design and development lab. Iteration means learning from those mistakes and possible improvements, making modifications based on that, and testing once again to check if your work actually has an impact.
To go deeper into the iteration concept, I strongly recommend the book “Lean UX” by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden, based on another great book if you’re entering the startup world called “Lean Startup”, by Eric Ries.
4. Copying isn’t a sin
We the designers always trying to be original or to innovate, make a difference and not fall into those pseudo-unique common places.
However, in UX field, we do need to try to innovate, but in some cases it is recommended to check elements or practices that others have implemented, tested, and confirmed its appropriate functioning.
We can save a lot of time and money on the product development process by avoiding basic usability mistakes that have been already experimented by others, such as: what color works better for a payment action, if some kind of word in a call to action button converts more, what kind of checkbox use, what forms are best for some particular case, and so on.
For example, at http://www.nngroup.com, a specialized UX consulting website, you can find a lot of reports and professional research tested on users, covering a range of UX topics. This can help to take complex decisions off our shoulders, leaving us valuable time to focus on other aspects and avoid making unnecessary mistakes.
To achieve this, we must get rid of the “No copying whatsoever!” chip from our designer brains. Actually, this isn’t very different from using a typeface designed by someone else, or a chromatic palette or picture we didn’t take.
5. Early testings
The sooner you test with users, the better. You will be saving time and money on your project (or on your boss’s project and he will be very grateful for that, believe me).
Two years ago, I remember carrying out the first usability tests with printed-paper screens of our awful wireframes at the Engineering University of Buenos Aires. We just asked people: “Where would you press to do this?”, “How would you do that if you see this screen?” Based on those finger actions, we changed sheets of papers with several screens to create something similar to a flow.
I was very reticent at the beginning with this crazy idea from my Co-Founder Agu De Marco, who had much more vision and contact with startups practices than myself. But for sure, this was one of the best and most enriching UX experiences we had at such an early stage of the project.