Any UX designer wants to create a software tool or an app that would appeal to users. Designers employ various techniques and practices to emulate users' behavior or to define user behavior flows, and it's a common belief that these techniques are all they need to design a successful product. However, there's one cornerstone to all the things UX that often remains neglected, as I was able to observe. It's hardly that the techniques alone would take UX designers to where they want without this essential base. I'll try to shed some light on what that is.
It seems that UX design practices can be roughly broken down into the following:
- Designer toys
- User mirrors
- A mix of both the above
Let me explain. What I call "designer toys" are the techniques that designers commonly use to better define their own vision of how users will behave inside an interface. What I call "user mirrors" are the techniques used to gather evidence, factual or intuitive, of how users want to behave in the context of a user interface. These mirroring techniques include all kinds of A/B testing, surveys, etc., and it is assumed that designers exercise empathy with users.
With the mix of designer toys and user mirror techniques, the outcomes of A/B testing and feedback from users are taken into account for new design versions. Having received certain signals from users, designers then use wireframing, personas, storyboarding, Design Studio methodology, a pinboard for design ideas, sketching, paper prototypes, etc. This mixed approach will be mostly required to improve an existing product or an app.
However, those many techniques fall short in the face of one ultimate deal breaker (or deal closer). Interaction design, or user interface design for that matter, is supposed to facilitate interaction between a user and an interface in a context shared both by a user and a software product. A friend of mine puts it that way:
The hows will appear if the what becomes clear
No sketching or wireframing technique will ever help communicate the strengths of a product or an app. If users act in the context that differs from what is implied by designers, or by the whole product dev team, it's likely that subtle UI perks and niceties will hit the barren ground. A very drastic example: can you imagine a pre-historic human using an iPad? It took millions of years to bring this living being to the context in which an iPad gives a clear "what".
On a softer level, Facebook was able to hitchhike along with users because everyone wanted to stay connected to their friends online. It's a whole other story that now, after about 10 years, we're witnessing the opposite trend, and Facebook is in decline.
So, the ultimate thing that makes for a success of a product would not be a user interaction design, or UX design. This whole user+product=love thing can only happen if users and product makers share one vision. It's very *cool* when one only needs to analyze the needs of users who act within one established paradigm of thinking. Things get a lot more exciting when the vision that a product team brings into the world is innovative, and users are not yet fully aware of what this product can do for them. In this case, playing with designer toys will resemble shooting at a target randomly in sheer effort to hit the bull-eye. It won't work. User vision design comes first, UX design goes next. UX design is more of a technician activity, because once a shared vision of something exists, people usually do not make any big difference with their designs, they mostly borrow tricks from each other and follow each other's steps.
Designing user vision is a whole other story. It involves having a clear product vision in place with the insiders (product dev team/executive/designers), and their ability to communicate this vision to the outsiders. Insiders need to come up with compelling proofs of how their product helps people do things better/easier, from a totally new perspective. Social sharing apps capitalize on the designed user vision that social sharing is hippish. Another case of user vision design is promoting Big Data as a panacea for organizational problems. Agile software development methodology has produced a vision for users as well. I can go on with more examples, but you get the idea.
UX designers need to keep in mind that successful design goes far beyond graphical or interaction design. For innovative products, it also includes user vision design.