Applying UX to UX

One benefit of working in the user experience field is that we get to wear many hats.  At any given time, we may be thinking like the designer, engineer, researcher, project manager or even the business stakeholder.  Suffice to say, there’s a lot we have to juggle and while having your fingers in many pies sounds tasty, things can get messy real quick.

In the worst of times, practicing UX can feel a bit like a race through an obstacle course.  The deadline is looming fast, so you are heads down at your desk wireframing as quickly as your mouse can click.  Then out of nowhere, engineering calls to say the mapping solution isn’t possible.  Revise pages 10-12!  Wait, now the stakeholder actually read your proposal more closely and wants to reprioritize the landing page.  Revise page 3!  Oops, the project manager forgot to tell you the review got moved up to an hour from now.  Soon, you start to wonder if that’s an ulcer forming in your stomach or just an agitating burrito.  When are you going to be get a project where everything goes smoothly?

When you realize that we are the users we should be designing for.  Just as we are the invisible hands that guide users through the systems we design, we need to take a step back and design our own flow.  But wait, we’re not digital (right?), so how does this work?

1) Focus on the user.  You.
Ask yourself: What is my role in this project?  Who am I working with?  What conditions exist that pose a challenge to me?

Going back to the hat analogy, we don’t just design, we manage, we research, we negotiate.  Is the project team complete, or do we need to help fill in any gaps?  Is the project manager a weak one that we’ll have to help guide?  Did research just drop off a report and do we need to help translate what it means to the stakeholder?  You’d be surprised as how many times the answers, well, surprise you.

2) Identify your goals.
The primary goal of a project is a good design, right?  No.  The primary goal for you as a team member is a successful project.  Of course great UX design is a large part of it.  But what are the other goals for you?  Is it to try a new collaboration method?  Build a new partnership or strengthen a shaky one?  Make a list and prioritize your goals for the project.

 3) Discern necessary from needless
There are always things you really need to actively manage and influence (such as a wishy washy stakeholder) and those which you can safely ignore (such as a chatty coworker with lots of free time).  Sometimes the choice is clear, but sometimes staying on track to meet your goals takes concerted effort.  Just think about the user who has to choose between the flashy banner ad and the Buy button.  They’re both choices, but if you’ve got limited time, you’ve got to pick one that will get you to the finish line.

4) Celebrate
Research shows that when users successfully complete a task, they celebrate.  Maybe it’s a clapping of the hands or merely a satisfied nod of the head.  Take the time to celebrate after you’ve completed your project with, you guessed it, some more questions:

  • What did I learn?
  • Were my goals met?
  • How satisfied am I with the outcome?
  • What can I do to make it better?

Don’t forget to be constructive with your self-review.

5) What else?  Iterate!
It’s what we do.  We learn from design and improve it.  How does this apply to work?  Look at everything from the team structure, to workflow, to communication skills to interpersonal relationships.  Chances are you’ll be able to come up with at least a few improvements to take to the next project kickoff.

Everything can stand a little design thinking.  Applying UX principles to the practice of UX is something that can make projects and our very careers all the more intuitive.

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