Looking to deepen my own knowledge of UX, I found myself, just as you might be finding yourself, looking for a set of rules I could learn and follow.
I imagined a finite group of facts that would enable me to make sure my designs were intuitively usable as well as beautiful. Instead, I found that many of the rules I sought did not exist in the way I initially anticipated. Instead of a rule book, I found a set of guides and tools for my toolbox, ones that are always evolving. Here are a few of the first lessons I learned:
Lesson One: There is no magic formula
The truth is there are no perfect recipes for web design that will solve a problem. The answer you will find, over and over, is “It depends.” And you’ll find that answer in this blog too. Because it does. It depends on who you are, who your audience is, and what you want them to be able to achieve or experience through your site.
There are lessons learned, of course. Best practices come from a variety of places and you can, and should, read all about them. They can be based on physical attributes, such as where your thumb falls when you hold a smartphone. Many are based on psychology, while others on patterns and studies of how eyes naturally follow a curved line from one object to another.
Lesson Two: You know more than you think you do
From F-Shaped reading patterns to emotional design, it can be easy to get overwhelmed with information until you're sitting in front of a blank screen of pixels frozen in indecision. It’s at these moments I find it helpful to return to one basic nugget of truth about great UX: It’s intuitive.
But another aspect of this is that, just by being a human, and especially by being a designer human, you already know a lot about what designs work and which ones don’t. Learning about UX might hold some surprises but the education process will mostly be a method of asking questions and shedding light on the reasons behind the practices you’ve already been using.
Lesson 3: Test / Amend / Iterate
Maybe the most important lesson I’ve learned so far was to test whatever concept, theory, pattern or structure developed in the early stages. Make, test, amend, iterate, test, amend, repeat as needed. The key is to be productive while knowing the value of time limitations in order to achieve the best user experience result.
There is nothing more humbling than to see a concept that was well thought out, surprising you in user-testing. Finding out if what you're doing is working is as simple as grabbing a few people and sitting them in front of your creation to see how they use it. This kind of informal usability test can be extremely useful.
Lesson 4: There’s always more to learn
Once you’ve got a few principles down it can be easy to use them liberally, and feel like you’ve cracked the code of user experience. But it’s important to know when and where to use those tools and which ones fit your objective best. There’s always more to learn and at the end of the day we don’t want to just remove obstacles for our users, we want to delight them.
What's going to delight users will vary a lot from project to project. Which leads us full circle back to lesson one again.
Just as with any other professional or personal development, learning about UX is a journey. It is one I hope you will take with me through this new series of blogs as I share my learnings, tools, and dare I say it, experience.