The top five UX ingredients a designer should always keep in their back pocket

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A variety of dried ingredients
A variety of dried ingredients (source: U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr)

Everything has a user experience. Your job is not to create the user experience. Your job is to make it good.

And what do I mean by “good” user experience? It is common to think that a good user experience is one that makes users happy.

Not true!

If happiness was your only goal, you could just throw in some Lolcats and random compliments and go home. But—although that’s not the worst universe I can imagine—your boss may not be satisfied with the results. The goal of a UX designer is to make users effective.

A user’s experience is just the tip of the iceberg

Many people mistakenly think that “UX” means a user’s experience, but it is actually about “doing” the process of user experience design. A user’s individual experience is their conscious, subjective opinion of your app or site. User feedback is important—sometimes—but UX designers need to do a lot more than that.

“Doing” UX

UX design (also sometimes called UXD) involves a process very similar to doing science: you do research to understand the users, you develop ideas to solve the users’ needs—and the needs of the business—and you build and measure those solutions in the real world to see if they work.

You will learn about all of that in this book. Or if that’s not your deal, Lolcats are still an option.

The five main ingredients of UX

User experience design is a process, and these lessons roughly follow that process, but you should always keep these five things in mind: psychology, usability, design, copywriting, and analysis.

Any one of these five ingredients could be a book of its own, so I will be oversimplifying a bit. This is supposed to be a crash course, not Wikipedia.

Although, to be fair, I’m pretty sure Wikipedia’s UX page was written by a guy who heard about UX once…at that thing…that time…

1. Psychology

A user’s mind is complex. You should know; you have one, (I assume). UXers work with subjective thoughts and feelings a lot; they can make or break your results. And the designer must ignore their own psychology sometimes, too, and that’s hard!

Ask yourself:

  • What is the user’s motivation to be here in the first place?
  • How does this make them feel?
  • How much work does the user have to do to get what they want?
  • What habits are created if they do this over and over?
  • What do they expect when they click this?
  • Are you assuming they know something that they haven’t learned yet?
  • Is this something they want to do again? Why? How often?
  • Are you thinking of the user’s wants and needs, or your own?
  • How are you rewarding good behavior?

2. Usability

If user psychology is mostly subconscious, usability is mostly conscious. You know when something is confusing. There are cases where it is more fun if something is hard—like a game—but for everything else, we want it to be so easy.

Ask yourself:

  • Could you get the job done with less input from the user?
  • Are there any user mistakes you could prevent? (Hint: Yes, there are.)
  • Are you being clear and direct, or is this a little too clever?
  • Is it easy to find (good), hard to miss (better), or subconsciously expected (best)?
  • Are you working with the user’s assumptions or against them?
  • Have you provided everything the user needs to know?
  • Could you solve this just as well by doing something more common?
  • Are you basing your decisions on your own logic or categories, or the user’s intuition? How do you know?
  • If the user doesn’t read the fine print, does it still work/make sense?

3. Design

As the UX designer, your definition of “design” will be much less artistic than a lot of designers. Whether you “like it” is irrelevant. In UX, design is how it works, and it’s something you can prove; it’s not a matter of style.

Ask yourself:

  • Do users think it looks good? Do they trust it immediately?
  • Does it communicate the purpose and function without words?
  • Does it represent the brand? Does it all feel like the same site?
  • Does the design lead the user’s eyes to the right places? How do you know?
  • Do the colors, shapes, and typography help people find what they want and improve usability of the details?
  • Do clickable things look different than nonclickable things?

4. Copywriting

There is a huge difference between writing brand copy (text) and writing UX copy. Brand copy supports the image and values of the company. UX copy gets shit done as directly and simply as possible.

Ask yourself:

  • Does it sound confident and tell the user what to do?
  • Does it motivate the user to complete their goal? Is that what we want?
  • Is the biggest text the most important text? Why not?
  • Does it inform the user or does it assume that they already understand?
  • Does it reduce anxiety?
  • Is it clear, direct, simple, and functional?

5. Analysis

In my opinion, most designers’ weak spot is analysis. But we can fix that! Analysis is the main thing that separates UX from other types of design, and it makes you extremely valuable. It literally pays to be good at it.

So, ask yourself:

  • Are you using data to prove that you are right, or to learn the truth?
  • Are you looking for subjective opinions or objective facts?
  • Have you collected information that can give you those types of answers?
  • Do you know why users do that, or are you interpreting their behavior?
  • Are you looking at absolute numbers, or relative improvements?
  • How will you measure this? Are you measuring the right things?
  • Are you looking for bad results, too? Why not?
  • How can you use this analysis to make improvements?

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