can-best-practice-replace-design-research?

Tempting it may be to skip the consultation process, but a ‘first principles’ approach is not going to cut it with the majority of your clients. The principles of design exist for a reason, but knowing when and how to break them is what separates great designers from good ones.

Heart-warming or not, co-creation with a client—the utopian ideal of shared vision—has its drawbacks. There are only so many times you can hear the words “brand strategy” before actually chewing your own face off. In the age of WordPress, Drupal and, dare I say it, Wix, it’s never been more tempting to pay lip-service to research and consultation. Instead of building a principles framework from scratch, why not roll out something from a template in a fraction of the time?

Well, in fact, there probably are situations where a simple WordPress-type approach will work really well. The trick is knowing when.

What Is “Best Practice” Anyway?

Well, exactly.

Even if you slept through design school, or didn’t go at all, you probably know the fundamentals already. And it’s true. If you stick to first principles, you won’t go far wrong. Here are some examples:

  • Color and Contrast: 2-3 colors maximum, use contrast to highlight important elements;
  • White Space: Use plenty of it, be consistent with proportions above and below;
  • Layout: Symmetric Grid. Err…Always. Work ‘above the fold’;
  • Typography: No more than 2-3 typefaces;
  • Logo: Long, top left, always;
  • Compexity vs Simplicity: Look for balance and visual interest;
  • Visual Hierarchy: Use color, contrast, size and complexity to highlight important elements;
  • Consistency: With all of the above, whatever you decide, be consistent;
  • And so on…

One size, though, doesn’t fit all. By bending and even breaking the rules sometimes, you’ll create designs that stand out and, more importantly, meet the real requirements of the brief.

The One Unbreakable Rule

It’s pretty hard to find a “Best Practice” that really works in every situation, but here’s one:

No matter what you’re doing, make sure you know why you’re doing it.

And, just in case you were wondering, “err…because it looks pretty?” and “because it’s easier than what I probably ought to do instead…” aren’t really reasons.

There are clearly situations where a client—whatever they may think—is best served by a simple off-the-shelf approach. Particularly if their budget is more Scrooge than Soros. The thing is, you probably still need to go through a research process to find out whether that’s the case or not.

When And How To Go Off Piste

Before or just after accepting the job, you’ll likely need to do some research with the client. This process should focus on (you guessed it) brand strategy.

Ideally, in the first instance, you’ll build a design principles framework. Whatever decisions you make after that (whether you’re going to stick to the rules or break them) should be justified with reference to the framework.

Here are some examples of situations where you might consider deviating from “best practice”:

You Want to Send a Particular Message

Take this site for a children’s fitness company, for example.

fitnessfinders

It clearly breaks all the rules about color and typeface, and a few more besides, but overall gives a sense of vibrance and playfulness, which of course is ideal for this market.

You Want to Draw Attention to Something

By ignoring the imperative to “work above the fold” and putting product and logo front and centre, candle manufacturer Waxxy draws the eye directly to their “product centred” philosophy and creates a sense of light and space:

waxxy

Natale’s Clothing uses additional fonts and a broken grid layout to emphasise content and create a sense of being “out of the ordinary”.

natales

You Want to Keep Things Clean

Legend has it, if you “put everything on the homepage” it’s good for SEO and easier for users. These days, though, there’s often a lot of information, and we prefer to have more space, even if it means a bit more browsing.

toke

If you visit Toke’s site here, you’ll see that they break the animation taboo in a subtle and effective way as well.

These are just a few examples, there are many more. In each case the key questions to ask are:

  1. How does it meet the brief?
  2. How does it help brand strategy?

When To Stick To The Script

A big consideration here will likely be the client’s budget. With the best will in the world, you’re going to struggle to create a logo, design a custom typeface, and build a multi-page site from scratch on $800. If that’s what the client’s asking for, and can’t understand the limitations, maybe consider saying no!

If, on the other hand, there’s scope to negotiate, where budgets are small and, in situations where, for example, the client has a small number of products and/or services, a single page WordPress site will often be exactly what they need. Here it’s not a question of “doing the bare minimum” but rather “not doing too much”. Even so, there will probably be bespoke elements that you can change to better fit the strategy.

Another important moment to check yourself, is whenever you’re not sure if an idea works. If you can’t justify a decision with reference to your design principles framework—or at least with reference to the client’s brand strategy—then it’s probably best to err on the side of caution.

Research or Best Practice?

In a word, both.

There are definitely situations where a “first principles” approach will be exactly what the client needs. Particularly if their budget is small and their needs are simple. Even in this case, though, a great designer will take the time to understand (or help to develop) the brand strategy, and add whatever tweaks are necessary. Each client and each brand is unique, and a designer’s job, if you think about it, is to reflect just that.

When using a bespoke approach, breaking with convention can, as we’ve seen, produce interesting and stylish results. It’s important, though, that each decision makes sense, and can be linked back to the brand strategy. If it can’t, it probably shouldn’t be in the design.

And whatever you do, don’t chew your face off.

Featured image via Unsplash.

how-to-practice-ethically-sound-ux-research

A conversation on ethics is often the equivalent of “eat your vegetables” in the tech and design world. We rightfully know the benefits but our practice is often far behind. Instead we find ways to avoid the conversation, relegate the conversation to moments of crisis and, dare I say, ignore it altogether in favor of designing cool things and/or eating ice cream.

In the last few weeks, the UX team at Viget has been mulling over what it means to have an ethical UX practice. We’re all in agreement that centering ethics leads to better designs and better tech.

As a UX researcher with a background in academic research, the conversation around ethics takes on even more dimensions. In the academic world, every research project that includes people must receive the approval of an institutional review board (IRB). The IRB is tasked with assuring the ethical soundness of every research project. Though it is by no means a perfect system, it is a system built on important lessons. There is much to learn from the ethical considerations in the academic research world.

One such notorious case is the Tuskegee experiment conducted between 1932 and 1972.

The Tuskegee experiment was an ethical nightmare in the world of biomedical research. The study was designed to observe untreated syphilis over time. A group of African American men in Alabama were recruited into the study, and only told that they would be receiving free health care from the US government. The study lasted for 40 years without the knowledge of the men, most of whom did not even know they had syphilis. Over time none of the participants were given treatment and ultimately many died either from syphilis or related complications.

While often times UX researchers are not necessarily dealing with these sort of large scale research projects, the digital world is not immune to the same kinds of unethical decisions. In 2014, Facebook was widely condemned after the world caught wind of their 2012 study which manipulated nearly 700,000 users’ newsfeeds to see whether it would affect their emotions. They conducted these studies without any informed consent from users. The study validated that manipulating people’s feeds did in fact impact the viewers emotions and mental state. There was no consideration during the design of the study for the potential impact on users who might have been negatively affected nor safeguard for possible psychological distress.

The fact is that UX researchers are dealing with people and with that comes real and important ethical considerations. The Tuskegee experiment would come to dramatically shift the landscape of research in America, ultimately leading to the creation of the National Research Act. This in effect created Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to protect human subjects from physical or psychological harm.

Though UX researchers are not required to subscribe to IRB standards, there are many ways in which we can hold ourselves accountable.

Here are 6 takeaways to consider in order to practice ethically sound UX research:

Treat your users with compassion.

    The Tuskegee experiment researchers willingly watched for 40 years as participants died and infected family members. This was a clear example of lack of compassion.

    Treating your users with compassion is about recognizing their value beyond your research needs. This can be as simple as ensuring that interview slots for usability tests and user interviews are scheduled after work hours.

    View your users as competent.

      When conducting research it’s important to view your users as competent. Always function from the perspective that users have their own capabilities and wisdom.

      For instance, when conducting a usability test, value all the ways a user uses a tool, even when it isn’t how you envisioned.

      Allow your users to consent both before, during, and after your research.

        No matter how benign you believe your study to be, take the time to get informed consent from your users. A user should always be crystal clear on what they are consenting to. In both the case of the Tuskegee experiment and the Facebook study, the involved parties were not informed of the study or given an opportunity to consent.

        In addition, prior to the study, it’s important to check that the user continues to consent both during and after the study. Prior to beginning the study, ensure the user is still interested in continuing. After completion of the study, again explain the purpose of the study and ensure that the user is content with the next steps.

        Be honest with your users about the purpose of your research.

          Being honest about the purpose of your research is the only way to start your research. Being honest isn’t about you breaking your NDA clause. Instead it is transparency about why you are engaging with a particular user and what insights you hope they can help you uncover. Ultimately, you cannot have consent without being honest about the purpose of your research.

          Protect the privacy and confidentiality of the users you speak with.

            Many times in the course of speaking to a user, a user might reveal personal and vulnerable information. It is important that you ensure that any data you collect is non-identifiable in order to respect and honor your users’ privacy. As the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) demonstrates, we exist in a world where data protection is high in mind. In a digital world, data is an important and a sensitive thing. As UX researchers or someone conducting UX research,  it’s important to ensure that your data collection methods keep data protection in mind.

            Respect the life and the dignity of every user.

              Ultimately, at no point should you engage in research you believe will in any way undermine the life and dignity of your user. Conducting UX research is about learning the behaviors and motivations of your users. When you conduct research you are entering into an often brief but important relationship. You must honor this and ensure that your process is not one of simple data extraction but rather one of honoring the gift of information you are gathering.

              Ethically sound research is in essence about being honest, doing no harm, and valuing your users. Even in the fast-paced world of UX research, we need to dedicate time to reviewing our practices and ensuring that our research is grounded in ethics.

              free-ux-ui-practice-projects


              This practice project/Client brief is the third one in this series from UX Design Mastery after the one for a Blog website and an eCommerce project.

              Design portfolio projects for UX and UI designers

              Included in each design brief is the following:

              • Objectives (What is REQUIRED by the client. This part usually trips designers up as they go off designing what is not required)
              • Timeline (For this to be realistic each brief has a timeline that is as close to real-world work as possible)
              • Platform(Where your designs will live. Understanding these platforms will give a well-considered solution)
              • Target audience (Users always come first and the design must accommodate the target audience’s pain points)
              • References (If you are not sure where to start, clients normally give a set of examples or references they like. The closer the design solution is to the references, the fewer revisions a designer will have to do)
              • Deliverables (Most importantly how the solution should be delivered. These represent what a well-detailed portfolio case study looks like so hit it out of the park)
              • Recruiter advice (Portfolio advice from creative directors, CEOs and leading design creatives from the biggest companies)

              A little about me

              Creating a portfolio project is hard work.

              I still remember when I did not have a single project in my portfolio that would really make me stand out and get noticed by recruiters. 

              I had just left my job as a Java Developer and was about to put all my effort into starting a design career. 

              One of the very first successful projects I created was a conceptual mobile app for a local airline. I had recently been on a trip which was frustratingly delayed and poorly communicated to passengers. 

              So I decided to creatively express my opinions through a conceptual project and it was responsible for me getting hired for my first design job. 

              Its also my most appreciated project .

              I hope this travel app project you work on, provides you with as many opportunities as I have received. 

              Let’s get into it

              Design Portfolio Project 3: Travel App

              Client Brief

              Client: Choose any travel brand of your liking

              Timeline: 1–2 Weeks

              Objectives

              Create a mobile app design that can:

               • Allow a user to book a flight, a hotel and car on a specific date for different destinations

               • Find the best deals on flights, hotels and car hires

               • Ability to select holiday activities

               • Organize all travel plans into one itinerary

               • Notifications

              Platform

              Please design a travel app for either iOS or Android. So we require mobile screens. Pay attention to

              iOS guidelines

              https://developer.apple.com/design/human-interface-guidelines/ios/visual-design/adaptivity-and-layout/

              Android guidelines

              https://material.io/design/usability/accessibility.html#hierarchy

              Target Audience

              References

              Please conduct some research on the following travel apps that we love and get ideas for functionality and features to include

              https://itunes.apple.com/za/app/kayak-flights-hotels-cars/id305204535?mt=8
              https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/expedia-hotels-flights-car/id427916203?mt=8

              Deliverables

              • Research (refer to references provided)

               • Highlight 3 enhancements or unique features you have included to make our app stand out and solve user pain points

               • Sketches of initial ideas

               • Wireframes

               • Visual mockups screens of

               ⁃ App Onboarding

               ⁃ Home screen where a user can book a Hotel, a Flight, a Car or an activity in a popular city

               ⁃ Listing page of Hotels

               ⁃ Map view showing hotels location

               ⁃ Itinerary screen

               ⁃ Possible notifications

               • Results section: Feedback from testing with 5 random people

               • Fonts: Brand related

               • Colors: Brand related

               • Link to this project

              Nice to have

              Video walkthrough (Screen record using QuickTime an Invision prototype interacation)

              Pro-tip

              Go through an entire booking experience to understand how the app is design.

              Advice from recruiters

              I wish more portfolio websites included little descriptions of what the designer’s role was in a specific project, or even pointed out some specific problems or personal thoughts about aspects of their designs. Too many portfolios now are just vanity shots and client name-dropping without actually communicating what was done. 

              James Cabrera, Senior Product Designer, Refinery29

              Going the extra mile and making sure it’s easy to consume, well-presented, and filled with helpful context about your projects tells us a lot about your communication skills. Ideally a portfolio should be more than just a collection of pretty thumbnails and mockups — it should speak to your problem solving skills.

              Ryan Le Roux, Metalab

              If you’re just starting out as a designer, a good alternative to unsolicited redesigns are personal projects. These self-initiated projects are a great way to build up your design and product skills, while also putting something out into the world for people to use. You’ll learn a ton from the experience of launching something and the feedback you’ll get from your users will definitely make you a better designer.

              Elyse Viotto, Shopify

              If you are interested in gettting the PDF download and four extra example case studies of award winning Travel app projects download below.