Why Great UX Starts Between Your Ears (Not on the Screen)

Google the term "UX best practices" right now and you’ll get an endless stream of search results, the majority of which will be focused on tactical activities: UI design trends, how-to design articles, software tools and tutorials, a rehash of basic principles for UX or design or development.

These are all valuable, mind you, but they’re only a small part of what it takes to deliver a successful product–one that provides value to users and, therefore, value back to the business. One that helps people do things quicker, easier, faster, more accurately or more efficiently, in addition to looking good and not causing eye strain.

Great UX isn’t a product of the tools you use, and it isn’t what you build or design on screen. It’s how you think about those things.

Great UX isn’t a product of the tactical work you do; it’s a product of how you decide what tactical work to do. It’s not the decisions you make; it’s how long and hard you think about and arrive at those decisions. It’s not about how content, data or controls look on the screen; it’s about whether those things belong there in the first place.

Great UX

How UX Design Typically Happens (And Why It’s Wrong)

I spend a great deal of time working with design and development teams in enterprise organizations and mid-size companies, and there are some commonalities in the way they begin the process of UX, design, and development.

And before you read this next bit, I want you to understand that I’m not picking on anyone; I absolutely understand why it happens.

Here’s what I see a great deal of:

  • Starting with themes. For example, if the team’s building with Bootstrap, the first thing that happens is they choose a pre-built Bootstrap theme and run with it. The chosen theme essentially becomes the foundation of the project’s UI and UX design, and it stays that way through launch. The pre-built theme probably looks nice, but it was created in a vacuum. The theme doesn’t take into consideration the project’s unique design and development challenges.
  • Starting with the work of other designers or developers. One of the most daunting things in life is a blank page, or a blank screen. Starting is the hardest part. So we hit up Pinterest, Behance, Dribbble, etc. to look at the freshest, newest, hippest UIs. But if you’re a designer or developer — experienced or fresh out of school — I want you to understand that you will not find the answer looking at the work of others. What you will find is someone else’s solution to someone else’s problem. The problem you have to solve belongs exclusively to you, to your client, and to your users. Mimicking someone else’s work won’t solve it.
  • Starting with current UI trends. Flat design, anyone? Flat design has obviously become a widespread trend. And while it’s appropriate in some instances, it’s being applied haphazardly to all manner of interactions. Designers are adopting the look without taking the time to think about whether it’s appropriate for the situation or whether people will understand what they see. And a great deal of flat design I see is applied without visual affordances, which makes it difficult for the user to understand that what they’re seeing is interactive. That it can be tapped or swiped or clicked to make something happen. Visual affordances clearly communicate purpose and function,and you cannot remove them and expect people to know what to do.

Why Does This Happen?

There are some very good reasons people take these approaches. In most cases, these courses of action with regards to UX design are symptoms of one or more of these scenarios:

  • The team is short-handed and out of time. They’re working within a ridiculously compressed timeframe that doesn’t allow for any exploration or investigation into what’s most appropriate or even what the real strategic objectives are. The only objective is just to get the project completed.
  • Other departments or management personnel are making the UX and design decisions. Someone is saying "make it look like Amazon," or whatever site, app or system they’re enamored with or believe to be best practice. Or they’re saying "we need to move to flat design like everyone else." The point is, they’re mandating solutions, usually before the team even understands what the problems are.
  • The team is being asked to do things they don’t have a lot of experience with. If I had a nickel for every time a team of developers were tasked with the additional mountainous job of designing the UI and making sure the UX was great, I’d be retired and living on a desert island with little umbrellas in my drinks. Here’s the thing: UX is not UI is not Development is not Programming is not… you get the idea. It’s more than a little unfair to ask someone to do something they have no experience in or training for. But that’s exactly what happens; it’s a lot like asking your plumber to fix your car.

The Answer? Think First. Design Next.

The title of my new book, Think First, reflects my firm belief that strategic thinking is the foundation of great UX. Think First was created on the idea that a little strategic thinking goes a very long way. And that if you think first, you’ll find that the foundations of good UX will be evident in all you do. It’s the most critical part of everything we do as UXers, designers, developers, business analysts, product owners, and so forth. Because if you skip that part, or if you guess at what matters most, you’re likely designing and building something that people either don’t want or can’t use.

So the answer to the problems we’re discussing here is this: Think first. Design next.

Everyone, every member of any team, can and should contribute to great UX.

How? By changing the way they think about what they do during the day. By making sure everyone understands the strategy behind what’s being built. By getting everyone on the team in the habit of questioning what they’re about to do, of asking themselves questions like:

  • Does the potential reward to users or to the business equal the time and effort we’re going to spend doing this?
  • Does this feature or function really matter to people? Is it in line with what we believe they’ll find useful, usable or valuable?
  • How do they expect this feature/function to work? Does this workflow run counter to what they’re used to?
  • Will our users understand what this label means?
  • Is what’s on this screen in line with what we know users need to see or do first? Is this data point we’re showing on an already crowded screen critical in enabling the user to understand or act, or is it just noise?

The answers build the foundation of the user experience. And when everyone filters their decisions and activities through that foundation, those daily decisions and activities change. For the better. And when you can’t do anything about unreasonable time and budget constraints, you’ll at least make better use of the time over the target you do have. You’ll be focusing on the important instead of the urgent.

Related Content

Joe Natoli is the author of Think First, a no-nonsense approach to creating successful products, memorable user experiences and happy customers. His online UX courses serve over 30,000 students, and he has consulted with and trained Fortune 500 and 100 organizations for nearly three decades. His articles, tips and advice can be found at givegoodux.com.

10 Awesome UX Podcasts

There is no denying the fact that user experience (UX) is a hot topic. Being a UX consultant/engineer, as well as a long-time listener of tech- and design-related podcasts, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some excellent podcasts with you. In this post, I will talk about my favorite UX podcasts, as well as my recently launched podcast called IncrementalUX.

1. Brain Sparks

Brain Sparks

This podcast is hosted by usability and UI design expert, Jared Spool. This podcast offers up a ton of value because you will hear many industry leaders — the same folks who frequent the conference circuits — share insights on usability, UX design, and UI design.

My favorite episode: Kim Goodwin – Using Scenarios to solve problems. In this episode, Kim and Jared talk about how user scenarios are great for expressing design problems and desired solutions by putting the user and his/her requirements in the proper context.

2. The Dirt Show

The Dirt Show

The Dirt Show is a podcast hosted by the team behind the UX design agency, Fresh Tilled Soil. One cool thing about this podcast is some topics follow a mini-series format, with multiple episodes and different guests talking about the same topic. For example, they have a mini-series on topics such as "designing your career" and "designing the future".

My favorite episode: Designing for Space Exploration with Jesse Kriss of NASA’s JPL. To date, this is in my opinion the best episode of The Dirt Show. This particular episode talks about how NASA uses hologram and virtual reality technology to create 3D worlds that mimic data captured by Curiosity, one of the Mars exploration rovers. For science! You can really feel the enthusiasm in the hosts’ voices because the topic is so cool.

3. The UX Intern

The UX Intern

You should listen to The UX Intern podcast for a couple of reasons: There are only 12 episodes, so it will be easy for you to catch up and complete the whole series, and the episodes feature an all-star cast of best-selling authors and speakers in the UX industry. The likes of Steve Krug, of Don’t Make Me Think fame, and thought leaders whose work you will eventually come across if you are a UX professional, such as Aaron Walter from MailChimp, have made appearances on The UX Intern.

My favorite episode: I can’t pick one particular episode because I think each one is a gem in its own right. I recommend going ahead and giving them all a listen.

4. UX Podcast

UX Podcast

This podcast broadcasts every other week and has some really high-quality content. The hosts regularly appear at UX design conferences, interviewing speakers right from the stage for UX Podcast episodes. They also do what they call "link-shows" where they take a few key articles that are trending and discuss the implications of the ideas presented in the articles.

My favorite episode: Imposter syndrome with Amy Silvers & Lori Cavallucci. While this podcast is mostly about UX, my favorite episode is a deep conversation about imposter syndrome. I believe that this episode helps a lot of working professionals who don’t know that what they are feeling and going through is common.

5. UX & Growth

UX & Growth

The recently-launched UX & Growth podcast focuses on how startups can leverage UX to help grow their company. This podcast contains a ton of high-quality content and good discussions around topics surrounding UX design. It’s interesting to learn about UX from a perspective that’s not focused on design, but rather on business objectives.

My favorite episode: Human to Human UX. This episode covers how companies can use the human connection to enhance how people feel about brands. They mention some good examples of companies that do this well.

6. UX Pod

UX Pod

Although UX Pod hasn’t released a new podcast episode since late-2014, it’s still a treasure trove of information. If you are new to UX, this podcast is a great place to start.

My favorite episode: Designing good five-second tests. In this episode, the discussion revolves around five-second tests for rapid design feedback. They discuss how and when to use this type of test, and share examples of when it’s effective and when it’s counterproductive.

7. UX Radio

UX Radio

UX Radio is a podcast about information architecture (IA), UX, and design.

My favorite episode: Curating UX Expertise with Louis Rosenfeld.

8. UX Mastery Podcast

UX Mastery Podcast

UX Mastery is a website that hosts a lot of useful articles and content related to user experience design. The site also has an infrequently updated podcast.

9. UX Discovery Session

UX Discovery Session

The host of this podcast, Gerard Dolan, interviews prominent people in the UX field. What’s up with the name of the podcast? According to the site, "A discovery session is an opportunity to learn about a relevant topic, generate ideas that expand a new technique or practice, or brainstorm concepts and ideas for the next new thing."

10. IncrementalUX podcast

IncrementalUX podcast

At this point, you may have realized how passionate I am about UX and podcasts. I’ve realized that you can, in fact, learn a lot about the subject just by listening to podcasts while on the go (for example, during your daily commute to work).

That had me wondering how awesome it would be if I started my own podcast and got a chance to interview industry leaders in the field of UX. By seeking out experts and teasing out UX design techniques from some of the best minds in the industry, I hope to help people incorporate user experience design into their workflows. So I started the IncrementalUX podcast. Feel free to give my podcast a try and give me your feedback.

For a taste of IncrementalUX content, check out this episode: User Research with Danielle Smith. Dr. Smith is an exceptionally talented person, and we talk about several techniques for user research and testing in the episode.

What’s Your Favorite UX Podcast?

This is obviously not an exhaustive list of UX podcasts. I’m curious to find out what your favorite UX podcasts are, and I look forward to checking them out.

Related Content

Vinay Raghu is a UX consultant based in New Haven, Connecticut. He’s the founder and host of the IncrementalUX podcast. Previously, he was a senior UX engineer at Enqos and Runway2Street. Connect with Vinay via his website viii.in, Twitter, Facebook, and GitHub.

5 True Things Every Creative Already Knows (or Should Know) Vol. 1

1) Practice! Practice! Practice!

Making a commitment to get better at what you do is the exact same thing as actually getting better at what you do. Every great artist or creative started as a lesser version of themselves and has achieved greater and greater things only through the making or the doing of their work.

So get your notebook, make your sketches, write down your ideas, and just get stuff done. Pretty soon all that “practice” won’t be practice anymore.

2) A Little Passion and Enthusiasm Can Go a Long Way

You may not be the most skilled artist or the most “naturally talented” but having passion for what you do will take you much farther than just having some kind of “natural” aptitude.

Passion enables you to fight harder and last longer than your “more skilled” counterparts.

Enthusiasm will help you stay positive through some tough challenges. That fight, that struggle and being able to get through it, builds a better work ethic and stronger character which ultimately, makes you a better artist.

3) Creative Blocks Aren’t Real

When you feel like all your ideas just don’t work or you think you have no new ideas, it’s not because you’re actually creatively blocked. It’s because you’ve allowed yourself to think you CAN be blocked.

The human mind isn’t actually capable of not producing ideas. That’s all humans do, constantly and involuntarily. We organize and we look for patterns and solutions for everything around us whether we want to or not. That’s just how our brains work. This method for finding new ideas works on that basic principle.

4) You Have to Create the Conditions in Which New Ideas Can Happen

We, as artists and creatives, like the notion that our best ideas just “come to us.” There’s something mysterious and romantic about being “inspired.”

However, in reality, great ideas come from the synthesis of all our experiences and circumstances – unconsciously, more often than not – which can make it feel like our ideas just suddenly appear out of nowhere.

The truth is, new ideas come from new information and new experiences. That is why going out to see and experience the world is essential for finding new ideas for your work. Nothing new will ever happen just staring at your computer screen all day or by sticking to your comfortable routine. Ideas don’t actually come to you, you have to go to where ideas happen.

5) Focus is Your Best Friend

Don’t half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing. – Ron Swanson

There’s always the temptation to want to do a lot of things well, especially for most modern creatives and artists. We all want to be great designers, illustrators, Photoshop magicians, or photographers. More to the point, we want to be all these things, all at the same time. So we “work hard” and study and hone many different skills, working with as many different ideas as we possibly can. 

Sure, it can feel great knowing that you’re able to take a decent picture while also being able to design a decent web page and a decent logo to match. But that’s all they will ever be: Decent. Passable. Adequate. 

Wouldn’t you rather be a singularly fantastic Photographer rather than be a middling designer/illustrator/videographer/web developer/photographer?

What are other true things you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments below.

 

Google's Redesigned Identity Gets it Right

Last night, as I was doing my nightly run around the internet, I noticed Google’s new logo in a favicon of a new tab I had just opened.

“That’s not a Google tab,” I thought. What is that?!

So I clicked on the tab and low and behold, it was indeed a Google results page but the Google logo on the top left was very different. At first, I thought it was just another Google doodle so I clicked it to see what it was all about.

Little did I know that Google had in fact redesigned their identity. An obligatory quirky Google animation played, erasing the old logo which was then replaced by the new logo we see today.

image_01_google

I stared at the new logo for a few minutes and a mix of emotions washed over me and questions soon followed.

“Do I like this?”

“Is this the right direction?”

“Does it look good?”

I thought about it for a few more minutes and I the answer to all these questions was a resounding “Yes.”

The thing about logos (especially for companies as large and as ubiquitous as Google) is that people often form bonds with them without even noticing it. And when a logo is redesigned or changed in any way, you’re more than likely going to have some strong reactions, one way or another. I know I did.

Think about the logos you grew up with and try to imagine how you felt when they changed or when they were redesigned. Yahoo! redesigned their logo a couple of years ago and it was met with criticism. Spotify just changed the color of their logo and many people expressed their discontent. These logos and symbols carry lots of meanings and associations and even a slight change can automatically alter those meanings for us. And a change we’re not comfortable with ultimately brings negative feelings and thus, negative impressions.

So what then, is the difference between a successful redesign and a doomed one?

Impressed with Google’s recent redesign, I set out to learn more about what went into their process and I came upon this blog post from the Google Design team which offers some insight into their approach to the new redesigned identity.

The 4th item on their brief immediately caught my eye:

A refinement of what makes us Googley, combining the best of the brand our users know and love with thoughtful consideration for how their needs are changing.

It is a simple statement that immediately addresses what any good redesign should be about. Taking the best of what we know and feel about an organization and considering what we will need moving forward.

A logo redesign (whether it’s for a small company or a huge corporation) isn’t about just “a new coat of paint.” It isn’t just about finding the perfect balance, flow, legibility, and whatever graphic design lingo you want to throw around. No, a graphic redesign — at its core — is about something much simpler (or more complex, depending on how you look at it). It’s an acknowledgment of the past with an eye towards the future. It’s about taking your best qualities as an organization and refining it to remain relevant for the things to come.

I think this is why Google’s redesign has left a positive impression on me. After learning of Google’s restructuring into Alphabet recently, I was indeed a little worried about what kind of company Google was going to become. Given that “Search” is one of the most powerful forces on the internet for quite some time now, Google’s redesign feels like an affirmation — or at least a statement — that Google will still be the Google we know… but slightly different.

With the new logo, Google remains quirky and fun and lighthearted but a little grown up. At least it seems that way for now.

What do you guys think of the new redesign? Discuss in the comments below.

Exceptional Vistas Captured on Google Earth

Photography has always been about having a vision, first and foremost. The camera is merely a tool one uses to achieve that vision.

Meike Nixdorf,the photographer behind the project “Your Earth Transforms, in fact uses images from satellites orbiting the Earth to capture some of the world’s most renowned mountain ranges from a very different perspective.

The project aims to capture the effects of the earth’s weathering and erosion at a certain point in time with the knowledge that the world is always changing and is always in a state of flux and may never be the same again.

According to Meike Nixdorf, “Your Earth Transforms” aims to show “the beauty the earth’s forces created and are still creating and the invisible transformations within the earth’s crust.”

Check out some of the images she’s created below and make sure to visit her portfolio to see more of her work.

Your Earth Transforms by Meike Nixdorf

image_01_meike_nixdorf

image_02_meike_nixdorf

image_03_meike_nixdorf

image_04_meike_nixdorf

 

Tell us what you think in the comments below.

50 Restaurant Websites for Inspiration

With over 1 million restaurant locations to choose from, how do you ensure yours stands out? You create an effective website that draws people in.

Designing a worthwhile website for a restaurant entails more than vibrant colors and pictures of food. When a website is designed successfully it is easy for customers to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, and includes key details such as location, menu, hours, etc.

If a person has never been to your restaurant before, then your website is their first impression. That’s why it’s so important for your website to highlight all the great qualities about it.

The purpose of your restaurant website design should not only be to increase awareness of your restaurant, but to also give potential customers a sense of what they would experience.

If you need help creating a website perfect for your restaurant you can contact us today to talk to a design expert! You can also check out our website design tips for restaurants for additional guidance.

Below you can see lots of beautiful restaurant website designs for ideas and inspiration!

Image of a restaurant website: Ruxbin ChicagoRuxbin Chicago

Image of a restaurant website: Risotteria MelottiRisotteria Melotti

Image of a restaurant website: The Eddy NYCThe Eddy NYC

Image of a restaurant website: BrassBrass

Image of a restaurant website: Quay RestaurantQuay Restaurant

Image of a restaurant website: Junction MoamaJunction Moama

Image of a restaurant website: Marianne RestaurantMarianne Restaurant

Image of a restaurant website: Arbor RestaurantArbor Restaurant

Image of a restaurant website: BaobabBaobab

Image of a restaurant website: Mercer TavernMercer Tavern

Image of a restaurant website: WhitmansWhitmans

Image of a restaurant website: Brindisa Tapas KitchensBrindisa Tapas Kitchens

Image of a restaurant website: Cow&Co CafeCow&Co Cafe

Image of a restaurant website: The Monocle CaféThe Monocle Café

Image of a restaurant website: Drury BuildingsDrury Buildings

Image of a restaurant website: Fino ParFino Par

Image of a restaurant website: Colonia VerdeColonia Verde

Image of a restaurant website: Bay Street BiergartenBay Street Biergarten

Image of a restaurant website: LemonadeLemonade

Image of a restaurant website: Fuel CafeFuel Cafe

Image of a restaurant website: OLÉ SOIREEOLÉ SOIREE

Image of a restaurant website: Big Apple Hot DogsBig Apple Hot Dogs

Image of a restaurant website: Restaurant Can JubanyRestaurant Can Jubany

Image of a restaurant website: giraffegiraffe

Image of a restaurant website: Benito's HatBenito’s Hat

Image of a restaurant website: Cafe SydneyCafe Sydney

Image of a restaurant website: BraeBrae

Image of a restaurant website: Shizuku RamenShizuku Ramen – Contemporary Japanese Restaurant

Image of a restaurant website: Jaffle JaffleJaffle Jaffle

Image of a restaurant website: FifteenJamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant London

Image of a restaurant website: CARAVANCARAVAN Restaurant, Bar & Roastery

Image of a restaurant website: WiredWired

Image of a restaurant website: Duke's Brew & QueDuke’s Brew & Que

Image of a restaurant website: Jacks BarJacks Bar

Image of a restaurant website: The Paper MillThe Paper Mill

Image of a restaurant website: The Kings ArmsThe Kings Arms

Image of a restaurant website: PitchPitch

Image of a restaurant website: The BancroftThe Bancroft

Image of a restaurant website: Joe's GarageJoe’s Garage

Image of a restaurant website: Maaemo RestaurantMaaemo Restaurant

Image of a restaurant website: Supreme SupremeSupreme Supreme

Image of a restaurant website: GauchoGaucho

Image of a restaurant website: Chick's Fry HouseChick’s Fry House

Image of a restaurant website: The Black SparrowThe Black Sparrow

Image of a restaurant website: easybistro.comeasybistro.com

Image of a restaurant website:

Image of a restaurant website: The OrdinaryThe Ordinary

Image of a restaurant website: Marco GrillMarco Grill

Image of a restaurant website: L’Amour FouL’Amour Fou

Image of a restaurant website: Artifact CoffeeArtifact Coffee

Your website is your introduction to potential diners, so you need to make a good first impression. Potential customers are more likely to dine at your restaurant if your website makes them feel engaged and informed.

Don’t just take our word for it though – four in five restaurant operators agree that restaurant technology helps increase sales, make their restaurant more productive, and gives their restaurant a competitive edge!

Do you need help creating a website for your restaurant or updating your current restaurant web design? Contact us today to speak with one of our design experts! With over 350 client testimonials and over $700m sales driven for our customers, we have the knowledge necessary to make your website successful.

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Jacob Gube is the founder of Six Revisions. He’s a front-end developer. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.