What exactly does a user experience designer do? Even within industry circles, the definition of UX is often varied, vague, and simplified.
“UX designers figure out how things are going to work.”
“UX designers make things pretty.”
But there’s so much more to it than that. UX is rooted in research, testing, and balance. And when organizations fail to place value on it, it’s hard to be successful.
Maybe one of the best ways to get everyone on the same page about UX is to break down its misconceptions. So we’ve put together some of the most common ones we’ve come across at Clearbridge Mobile.
“When organizations fail to place value on UX, it’s hard to be successful.”
Correcting these misconceptions isn’t just about defining the role of UX. It’s about encouraging flexibility and challenging perceived limitations to build better interactions.
Misconception: UX and UI are the same thing
They’re not mutually exclusive, either. It’s nearly impossible to work on user experience without considering the user interface—and vice-versa.
Good UX design is subtle and natural. It makes tough design decisions seem obvious and effortless. But we know it’s the result of a mountain of business, persona, and technology analysis.
Good UI is the exciting button feedback, and the palette and copy tone that resonate with your users. It’s the result of taking all that research and choosing an appropriate incarnation.
Let’s use Jennifer Aldrich’s bicycle analogy. There’s a need: fast transportation from A to B, without fuel and with just one person operating the bike. The UX determines the core components needed: a place for the user to initiate motion, stop, and steer.
“Good UX design is subtle and natural.”
The UI considers the environment in which the product will be used, the most ergonomic positioning and cushioned seat that can be adjusted to each unique user’s stature, whether it comes with bells or horns, and so on. The end goal is a happy marriage of function and form.
Why is this distinction important? To maintain focus at different stages of a project. When establishing how your app will walk and talk, keep the focus on the user journey and not whether eggplant is the right purple for the job. It helps keep personal preferences at bay and iron out the direction.
Misconception: if a trend keeps working, don’t fix it
This stems from the idea that there’s a cheat sheet that all UX designers reference. There are some solid sources of inspiration (Pttrns, Capptivate, and MaterialUp, to name a few) out there, but the key is to not be stuck with a trend that may date your app later.
It’s far better to analyze exactly why the trends work, and apply that to your particular needs. You can improve and build upon it. For example, tab bars are a successful UI element because they bring focus to key features and are easily accessible to the thumb.
“Don’t get stuck using a trend that might date your app later.”
Be wary of the “I want this to be the ____ (super popular corporation) of _____ (insert unrelated industry)” approach. This isn’t to say that happy marriages can’t happen. Instead, analyze again what works and what doesn’t. It takes a bit of user whispering to understand what captures the hearts of your audience.
One size doesn’t fit all, and neither does one user flow. Research makes for a stronger experience in the end by allowing you to tailor the experience to your audience and platform.
Misconception: everything must always be shown
Our attention spans are getting shorter every day. So it’s understandable some might worry that an app or website has to tell everyone everything immediately and all the time. The fear is that their visits will be short and confused.
But the reality is that too much information at once overwhelms the user.
Picture this: you’re walking by a storefront where the staff, upon sensing the vaguest of interest, ambush you with neon light-up signs with 50 lines of text, while singing the jingle on loop. Not very pleasant.
“Let people explore and discover your wonderful content on their own.”
We don’t need to cram everything in that first screen. It comes across as insecure, and it’s condescending to the user. Let people explore and discover your wonderful content on their own. Half the fun of an interactive design is the satisfaction of self-initiated discovery after the initial curiosity.
At the same time, avoid extreme minimalism. Aim for being concise and intuitive. Be the invisible guiding hand. Draw them in with a question, a bold statement, or an interactive game. Don’t lecture—invite participation.
Misconception: if it doesn’t animate, it doesn’t delight
We’ve all heard the “make it pop” request. You’re not alone if hearing it makes you twitch.
Good design can ‘pop’ on its own without relying on bells and whistles. Trust the value of subtle animations that enhance the experience by reinforcing happy paths. They can be rewards for correct and continued interaction.
Good examples include:
- Google’s Material zoom transitions between apps and pages
- Snapchat’s dancing ghost when you refresh
- the loading animation of the skeleton UI on Facebook
- the finger-tracking liquid movement of Nike’s Making App
“Good design can ‘pop’ on its own without relying on bells and whistles.”
All of these inspire a bit of delight through augmenting your natural gestures. You would do these things anyway, but you’re getting a treat that doesn’t become tiring over time.
Large scale animations have a place, too, but they should be used sparingly and to celebrate a special event or time-consuming process.
Misconception: we can deviate from the guide so it suits this one screen’s purposes
Imagine a restaurant menu that includes Indian, Japanese, French, and Italian appetizers and entrees. While it could seem like you hit the “please everyone” jackpot, it also seems disjointed. It’d be tough to tell whether the restaurant could knock it out of the park with every type of cuisine, or if they actually only specialize in one of them and have included the rest to please every type of customer.
The same can be said for a brand identity that’s twisted to fit the needs of the day, like transitioning from a website to an app. Businesses build trust through consistent quality of products, services, or content. That comes through when you see all properties belong to the same family of color, fonts, and tone.
Misconception: only designers can have input on design
While not everyone can design, great design concepts can come from anyone. Collaborative efforts build robust solutions because they grow from a range of expertise. At Clearbridge Mobile, we regularly ideate with our developers and test engineers during product definition. They’re also welcome to join our weekly Art Attacks where we take a break from digital life to revisit crafts and exercises that reintroduce us to discovery and fun. This all results in a holistic approach to building interactive experiences.
“Not everyone can design, but great design concepts can come from anyone.”
To build up user retention, we can draw from a quality assurance engineer’s game design background. To find an alternative to a memory-heavy animation, we can draw from developers’ experiences on a media-heavy product. The possibilities are endless. There’s no room for shyness—only fearlessness of being silly and sparking a greater idea. The only rule we push is to speak up sooner than later to allow the design team to refine and implement these gems.
Challenging UX misconceptions is about more than defining the role of UX in the creation process. It’s about breaking through perceived limitations to build better products.
Balancing between must-haves and nice-to-haves, delight and calm, trends and innovation, collaboration and independent research, allows us to avoid falling victim to the barriers these myths impose.