Programming is great. You can create almost anything you can imagine. All that power at the tip of your fingers. But programming is also a lonely task. You can have a great team and go to a bunch of meetings, but the truth is you will spend most of your days coding alone with your computer as your only companion.
When you spend 8–10 hours a day coding you get absorbed in the project and start thinking in terms of algorithms, functions, databases, and a lot of technical concepts that make you forget why you are even coding.
As a software developer with an M.A. in Anthropology, I believe my goal is to deliver a product that improves people’s lives.
Of course, I have a soft spot for people and I like to think in terms of the user and how the product I’m developing will help them achieve their goals in an easier and faster way.
And that’s all about UX.
“UX Design is an empathically-driven practice crafted to solve human and business problems, and remove obstacles and friction from a user’s desired goals — hopefully delivering delight in the process.”
Empathy is built through human interaction. So get out there and start talking to people!
To facilitate things, I give you my 4 basic UX-related concepts that will help you improve your projects and customer experience. Have in mind that these are concepts, not a methodology. I would encourage you to work with them through the whole creation process and include them in your planning from the beginning.
Oh, I came up with a nice acronym that you can remember!
DARE: Design, Application flow, Research, and Execution.
Think of design as the body of your creation. If you want people to use your product, it’s not enough for it to work properly: it has to look and feel good.
You are not a designer? That’s ok! Just follow the fashion rule: less is more.
Tip: sketch as much as needed.
Don’t go wild and build your web page after the first draft. You need to do a lot before you actually code something, but having a general idea of how you want it to look is a good start.
Another good idea is to prioritize the functionalities you want to develop. I’ve experienced what it’s like to work with a small team and try to do much with little.
If you want to meet the deadlines and build a great prototype, you have to focus on the core of your product, think about what makes it stand out and work from there.
Once you make it look good, you want it to feel good. That’s why you have to design your product thinking about how the user will, well, use it.
At the core of the interaction design is the flow. What’s the first thing you want users to do when they open your website? How do you make your app intuitive enough so people don’t get lost in it?
The simplest way to build a good application flow is going old school: get a whiteboard and start planning. And take your time. It is better to spend hours planning and rebuilding your design than changing it after you already started coding (see how the design is mixed in?).
Don’t start thinking in code yet. Keep it simple. Make it about what you want your users to experience while using your product.
The application flow is tightly related to the usability of your product. That is, the ability to solve a problem using your app or website and do it in an easy way.
Does it do the right thing? Does it get things done?
You want your customers to navigate as smooth as possible. That’s why you spent hours thinking about the design and researching your potential users (more on that later).
I have to stress the importance of this concept when designing your product. In my experience, programmers tend to forget about the general flow or how people are going to interact with the product and focus only on the code behind it.
Fixing a problem in development costs 10 times as much as fixing it in design, and 100 times as much in production.
The result: a mix of buttons, alerts, and cards that force the user to click multiple times to get one thing done, make it difficult to find the main menu or hide important sections under layers of steps.
Research your users
The most important part of the UX design is getting to know your potential users: they’re the reason you are building this project!
You have found a problem and a way to solve it but, is it the right way? Are you sure that’s what people want?
For me, this is the fun part. You get to go out in the field and start asking questions, taking notes, getting feedback from your future customers and then go back and analyze the data: the perfect mix between social sciences and math!
Studying your clients will help you decide on the key functionalities you need to develop (back to the design!), test your product with real people and have the input you need to design and execute your product.
“UX research employs a variety of techniques, tools, and methodologies to reach conclusions, determine facts, and uncover problems, thereby revealing valuable information which can be fed into the design process.”
As you can see, after getting that amazing idea of yours, you need to develop a good research methodology to test it. You want to be sure it is something people need and will use.
Or you can watch this video:
Execute the idea
The first three letters of the brave acronym I created will be the base of your planning and you will have to go back and forth until you have a solid ground to finally execute the idea.
Let’s put your fingers to work now. At this stage, you will know everything you need to build a prototype and start testing it.
Perhaps you will be tempted to change something because it’s easier to code that way… wait! I’m sure your inner traditional developer will rise from the ashes of oblivion and try to take control.
Remember you did all this planning for a reason and you should stick to it. You are not coding for yourself: you are coding for people and you know what people want (after all, you did your research).
85% of issues related to UX can be detected by performing a usability test on a group of 5 users.
Of course, it is great to be flexible and creative. I’m sure you will adjust something while you are building your prototype and that’s ok.
As you can see, there’s no beginning or end with my DARE concepts. You will have to DAR, RAD, ARD before you execute, that’s for sure. Perhaps you will go back and forth multiple times until you have a clear idea of what your product will look like.
But even after you build your prototype, you will have to start all over again to make it better, keep it functional and expand its reach.
Just don’t go the easy way but keep your goal in mind:
You want to improve people’s lives.