Thoughts on User Experience

Understanding what users want to do, what they actually do and how they feel about using a system defines the effectiveness of any digital experience. Function and interface are the core ingredients for most digital projects, but there are many more intangible elements that help dictate a user’s actions and perceptions. An awesome user experience is much more than data, pictures and buttons. It’s the transition between views, how a button animates, knowing when to emphasize the interface and when to hide it. Ultimately, all of these ingredients add up to form an emotional reaction that determines the product’s overall success.

There are endless approaches to planning digital experiences. Some teams place these decisions on various designers, developers, researchers and directors. Sometimes the user experience is drafted in a silo by information architects months in advance of any design work, and sometimes it’s improvised in the middle of a project’s creation. I can say there’s no single formula that works for every project. The best projects seem to achieve a delicate balance of planning, reflection and iteration. Predicting human behavior is arguably the most powerful skill you can have as an interaction designer, architect, engineer (insert title here). You can draft a 300 page functional spec document, with use-case flows, personas, and wireframes annotating every detail of every view, but if the final outcome doesn’t result in a positive emotional reaction then all you’re piles of strategy will be perceived as a failure.

It’s the balance of dreaming big and being pragmatic that that will help you reach meaningful goals. Big dreams tend to incur big production costs, and pragmatism often limits creativity. So it’s important to have a reliable set of tools that helps you to not only dream big, but also get the job done fast.

Here are a few resources to add to your UX toolbox to help you draft, sketch, research, revise and execute ideas faster.

1. Smashing Magazine: Sketching Templates

Smashing Magazine is pretty much a no-brainer for web designers and developers looking for round-ups. Here is a great round-up of printable sketching, wireframing and story boarding templates.
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2. Balsamiq Mockups: Wireframes

Balsamiq is an Air app that allows for easy drag-n-drop interface wireframing. It provides a robust asset library, generates xml, and also has a pretty nice presentation mode.
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3. UX Magazine: Psychology

UX Magazine is a community of gurus from around the world that publish articles on the psychology of users and much more.
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4. UX Booth: Tips & Trends

UX Booth showcases tips and ideas dedicated to user experience professionals.
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5. UI Patterns: Interface Parts

UI Patterns hosts a collection of categorized interface components that not only lists different ways of solving common design problems, but also rationalizing about how, when, and why such solutions should be used.
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6. Slideshare: Presentations

Slideshare has a plethora of presentations from other industry professionals on user experience.
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One Response to “Thoughts on User Experience”

  1. Van Brown

    That was a good post. The disparities between what folks say they want to do and what they actually do has a wide application to all kinds of systemic processes. And it is certainly affected by understanding and experience. And you are correct about big dreams and pragmatism. Yet sometimes the project with virtually no budget at all invokes the spirit of creativity when throwing huge piles of money tends to usher in the imp of over-relaxation. Then at other times, the planner who is forced by budget to become a little bit more conservative may only think he is being creative.

    Specifically, an issue designers, architects, and engineers need to consider more often is the reality that someone other than themselves is going to actually be using their end product. This is significantly true in the world of logistics where budget restraints cripple utility more than creativity. Ask truck drivers who do not design or purchase the equipment they operate, and were not consulted about it either. For a fact, there are trucks designed to be used as inner-city day cabs that (according to the tachometer) are set up to cruise (max efficiency) between 35 and 45mph. But because of price (cheapness), they are often employed in over-the-road assignments where they perform poorly and become a maintenance nightmare for the user/operator. The good side is that the planner (who doesn’t have to drive the truck—ever) is happy, and makes his bonus (while the actual driver sits on the side of the road waiting on a wrecker). From what I hear now and then from friends in IT support, a similar scenario occurs in the digital world as well.

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