As a designer, you’re used to clients having certain expectations. And you likely pride yourself on being a perfectionist when it comes to details. Still, there will be times when unexpected frustrations, disappointments, and failures will rattle your confidence in your skills. Part of the reason for this is because you may not be as adept at reading people as you are at finding the right color scheme and creating a visually stunning user interface design. While this isn’t your fault, you’ll probably be blamed for any missteps. It’s especially true with anything that affects your client’s budget or their earning potential when the product finally launches. A lot of the miscalculations common among designers have to do with user experience issues. The gap between how users react and how you think they’ll respond can be bridged with a better understanding of common UX mistakes.
1. Assuming Most Users Will Automatically Understand Your Design Features
You spend a lot of time in the design world. Consequently, you have a lot of knowledge about how things work online, how apps function, and what works well on a website. You know about stuff like hamburger menus. You understand what most icon means from a quick glance. If you have the same mindset as a lot of designers, you probably assume:
• Users automatically know what symbols, images, and logos mean
• Any instructions featured on your product will be carefully read and followed
• Users will understand all of the workflows and know how to find whatever they’re looking for
• You’ll have the undivided attention of users
As Mr. Spock might have said, all of these assumptions are entirely logical — at least in a designer’s mind. The problem is they’re not based in reality. A lot of users have no clue what a hamburger menu is, let alone what some of those cool icons are supposed to mean. As for following instructions carefully, most users prefer to dive in and figure stuff out. And some users are seeing your workflows for the first time, so they have no idea what they’re even looking at. Finally, good luck with the attention thing. Most users are notorious multitaskers with short attention spans, so you probably won’t have anybody’s undivided attention.
What can you do? For starters, keep directions as short and straightforward as possible. If you are going to use icons that may be confusing, either state what they’re for or don’t use them all. Clickable links can be more effective in some cases. Realistically, not every possible user is going to appreciate your design. Focus your attention on those you will likely be able to guide through the user process.
2. Designing for Any and All Users
Keep the users in mind! This is what most designers are repeatedly told. But just because some people will use your products doesn’t mean they are all the right users.
An excellent example of this is Google. On the surface, their intended users are “all searchers.” But in reality, Google “users” can include actual human searchers, automated bots, advertisers, and fraudsters who purposely attempt to produce false impressions to get money from advertisers.
Advertisers who play by the rules are welcomed, as are actual human searchers looking for something relevant. However, Google makes every effort to block spammers and prevent fraudulent activity. Therefore, Google does not want to target every possible user actively. Their primary intended users are actual searchers looking for information.
Who should you be targeting then? You want to get more specific with your demographics and available data to identify your target audience as precisely as possible. The way do this is by continually testing your design. Explore your stats to see which specific users are responding to your plan. Fine-tune your UX design with those target users in mind.
3. ‘Friction’ Is Sometimes Necessary
“Friction” regarding design means resistance to any of the elements in the process you’ve designed or laid out for your users. As a designer, you’re probably used to thinking that resistance is something to avoid. After all, why would you want to create barriers for users?
Resistance doesn’t mean design flaws. It’s merely telling you that some adjustments are needed. Think of it as turning down the brightness on your screen or lowering the volume when your iPod is too loud.
Looking at Google again, an example of why resistance is a good thing is users who intentionally attempt to trick search engine crawlers. For instance, some sites use shady practices like cloaking, keyword stuffing, and hidden text. Google creates resistance for these users by flagging them for violations and, after repeated warnings with no response or attempts to make amends, blocking them.
If you don’t create necessary friction as a designer, you may overreact when problems develop. Other times your design may become susceptible to chronic abuse by users with different intentions. In some instances, you’ll need to tone down the resistance to remove unnecessary barriers to use. There will also be times when you’ll need to kick it up a notch. It’s all about finding a balance.
An example of resistance that can be either good or bad is the captcha, which is supposed to discourage spam. A simple captcha is excellent. But one that has too many fields on a contact form may dissuade users. Some other examples of resistance, both good and bad, include:
• Some steps in different processes: If there are too many steps in any given process, you may create “bad” resistance by increasing user drop-off.
• Walls of text: Web pages with too many texts can be just as discouraging to users. An appropriate adjustment would be shorter paragraphs, descriptive headlines, and a mix of texts and images.
• Too many form fields: User fatigue will quickly set in when too many form fields are used when fewer fields will achieve the same goal.
• Too few form fields: On the flip side, too few form fields can make things too accessible without any appropriate filters.
• Generic images: Images can reinforce your message, but not if you’re relying on stock images that don’t convey anything meaningful or personal.
4. Following Orders
For a designer, a “boss” can be a single person who is developing a product, a committee, or a handful of people who are calling the shots. Regardless of who your boss may be, it’s understandable to automatically say “yes” to anybody responsible for signing your checks.
Shift your focus from whatever your boss wants at the moment to what the goals are for whatever you happen to be designing. Why? Because a problem develops when your boss demands you do something that goes against any of the previously established goals.
You may know from your experience that certain requests simply don’t make sense. In other instances, you might be able to predict with certainty that a request will end badly. What’s more, you may end up being blamed for any massive failures that result from such directives.
What can you do about situations like this as a designer? Know when to speak up! Of course, some tact is still necessary when dealing with anybody who is your boss. Taking this step, however, is something most designers avoid. Why? Fear of losing a gig. But when requests from higher up turn into an epic fail, designers usually get sacked anyway.
Also, consider the fact that any mistakes you make because you are following directions you know don’t make sense could end up in your portfolio. And this isn’t likely to make a good impression on potential new clients. Avoid having a collection loaded with mediocre work by approaching any boss making a not-so-wise request in the following way:
• Explain why a design request doesn’t make sense
• Remind them of the goals established when you first started the design process
• Explain why a design request will likely derail a project
• When possible, use examples from previous projects you’ve worked on examples of what can work and what won’t work
• Offer alternative suggestions to their requests likely to be more beneficial
One way to avoid any of these mistakes is to continuously put yourself in place in the place of intended users, many of whom do not have any in-depth design experience. If you’re jumping into a project where a lot of the fundamental design decisions have already been made, or you’re part of a team where other designers are also tinkering with the product, you can still point out possible UX issues. Dive into product and user research and use relevant data to back up your assertions. Finally, keep in mind that you ultimately want to create a product that’s as user-friendly as possible. So, step back at different points during the design process and ask yourself if what you’ve created is something you would use yourself.