Want Better UX? Change the Conversation.

If you’ve ever been a user experience designer, you’ve probably heard people say something like this when starting a new project:
  • We want to make it delightful and easy to use.
  • We need to do some user research.
  • We want to improve our onboarding process.
  • We think it needs a walkthrough for new users.
  • We want a persona/photoshop mockup/wireframe/landing page/insert deliverable here.
All of these statements are absolutely useless. Why? Because none of them help you decide what to work on or how to improve a product.

So, the next time somebody introduces a UX project by asking for a specific deliverable or by giving vague instructions to “make it better,” you need to change the conversation.

You can do that by asking the following questions:
  • Who is the target user for this product or feature?
  • What problem are you trying to solve for those users?
  • What business need are you trying to fulfill with this project?
  • What metric are you trying to move?
  • Why do you think that solving this particular user problem will move that metric?
I know you want it to be delightful. But what metric does it move? — Tweet This

How Do These Questions Help Users?

The most important thing about these questions is that they help you define three things that are critical to a successful design project:
  1. The problem you are trying to solve
  2. The reason you are trying to solve it
  3. The way you will know if you’ve succeeded
Of course you want a better design. How will you know if you’ve succeeded? — Tweet This
Design without these elements isn’t really user experience design. It’s just drawing pictures. Design is about solving real problems, both for users and for the business. In fact, at its best, design is about solving problems for the business (for example, generating revenue or improving retention) by solving problems for the user (for example, offering something somebody wants to buy or helping make their lives better).
Design should solve problems for your business by solving problems for your user. — Tweet This 
By knowing the answer to these questions, you are far more likely to build a product that users want to use and that improves key metrics for your company.

How Do These Questions Help Designers?

Answering these questions can be incredibly helpful for individual designers. When we ask these questions, we reframe the project to give the designer far more freedom to solve problems, which is, after all, the fun part of the job.

Instead of being told “change the onboarding flow” or “create a tutorial walkthrough,” we get asked to “improve the 10 day activation metric for new users.”

As designers, we get to create our own hypotheses about how we will improve that metric rather than simply implementing someone else’s vision.

More importantly, we can understand when our designs were successful, because we have a specific metric against which we can measure our results. This kind of direct feedback can make us better designers.

How Do These Questions Help Engineers?

These questions can be incredibly useful for defining the scope of a project, which has a very real impact on engineering. For example, poorly defined projects are particularly susceptible to scope creep.

After all, if you don’t have a very solid idea of the problem you’re trying to solve or the metric you’re trying to move, it’s very easy to justify adding “just one more thing.” But when you have a clearly defined problem, it’s easy to push back on new feature requests that don’t contribute directly to solving that problem.

What to Do If They Can’t Answer Those Questions

The first few times you try to change the conversation, you may get push back. You’ll get clients or product managers or engineers who simply can’t answer these questions. Keep asking them.

If people can’t answer the questions, you need to help them get the answers before you start work on the project. Otherwise, you’re shortchanging your users, your company, your team, and yourself.

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