Design better, not more

April 27, 2020

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about what I envisioned would be the future of the UX-designer. One thing that stuck out to me when I revisited the article was this:

As technology offers us more and more options and possibilities, our work as UX-designers will grow to include even more edge-cases. As our acceptance of friction with these services continues to decrease, our work will increasingly need to include more ‘what if’ scenarios.The future of the UX-designer

I feel that in many cases, we tend to work - even more focused - on one specific scenario. And while being focused and specific like this may serve its purpose, I'm not sure this is the best way to proceed. What I think UX-designers, in general, need to improve on, is to factor in the different scenarios that might occur when a user is engaging with their product. That's NOT the same as producing personas and different use cases! It's about envisioning things that may go wrong. There's so much we should factor in as UX-designers; technology (connection speed, operating system, device), user behavior (stressed, relaxed, nervous), and everything related to accessibility (color blind, screen readers, etc).

In fact, Jennifer Aldrich argues that "we should all move towards thinking of ourselves as “temporarily abled”—to switch our bias from creating a regular experience for an idealized set of abilities, and towards creating an experience that can accommodate the widest possible range of needs (without having to enable “accessibility options”)." And this isn’t just about long-term disabilities - she makes the excellent point that “angry, sobbing, or drunk people may try to use your product” differently.

Better, not more

The other day I was listening to Om Malik talking to Jason Fried talk about how AI has introduced so many new data-sets and it's being used in algorithms like never before. We've all experienced it, whether it's through a simple Google search, Netflix recommendations, Amazon add-ons or Youtube suggestions. It's always the same thing: More, not better. More suggestions, more results, and more recommendations. Not better.

Engagement, not value, drives these platforms.

As a word, engagement is meaningless. It’s a stand-in for any number of measurements collected by the tracking technology embedded into every website, app, and TV. For Google, engagement might mean the number of times an ad is seen. To Instagram, engagement is probably a complex formula comprising likes, comments, and follows. Netflix could count the number of hours the average person spends watching Friends as engagement.

A meaningless word, but a meaningful measurement; engagement drives algorithms. So engagement is closely monitored. Right now, product managers, designers, and engineers are planning, building, and shipping to drive more engagement. Those measurements feed the formulae that guide what shows we watch, what ads we see, and what products we buy.Engagement is an antimetric

If I look ahead to the future and try to think about what I believe is the next step for UX designers (refreshing to think about the future when it's not related to COVID-19...), I think our main priority should be to design better, not more. How do we design services that doesn't offer more, just better. If YouTube offers me options on what to watch next and they offer 100 options, surely one of them will be interesting. However, the truth is that most won't be. So if they offer 10 options, does the same ratio still stand?

Should designers code? (🤣)

It's been a while since we moved on from the discussion whether or not designers should code (spoiler: I don't think it matters - if you can code, great, if not then you're still not a lost case). Going forward I do believe that it's critical that UX designers not just understand how technology works, but also understand how they can best utilize it.

To date, the areas of investment have been primarily on the highly technical side — building better algorithms. The user experience has, for the most part, taken a backseat to the mechanics. The result is that there is a huge opportunity for the design and research communities to create much better user experiences for AI and ML.Design Must Lead the Way on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

It's not just the work that will change over the next years, but how we get there. Most agree that VUI (Voice User Interfaces) will play a large role in our interactions in the future, but have you ever considered how different designing for a voice user interface is from designing for a graphical user interface? Even testing is widely different!

Eventually, we discovered that all the traditional approaches to usability testing that we’d executed for other projects were ill-suited to the unique problems of voice usability. And this was only the beginning of our problems.Usability Testing for Voice Content

It's not just about switching platforms, from desktop to smartphone or even about switching contexts, from fixed to mobile. It's about switching processes and understanding the user's needs far better than what we are today. Think about it... While 100 suggestions might work on YouTube today, when the primary interface is voice you'll get one shot at making the correct suggestion.

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