- User experience designers live in a highly subjective world, where everyone can see and find beauty in their own unique way. We're not forced to believe one color is better than the other, nor are we given a rulebook on which button color will perform better. However, we are given the ability to feel our way through our designs. With that feeling, we have a strong intuition to design what our eyes see as beauty. Painting or sculpture can be developed with 100% subjectivity, but in product design, we must balance our subjective beliefs with a truly objective mentality.
In this episode, we'll look at managing expectations in a highly subjective and aesthetic field. In my earlier episode Pretty Doesn't Mean Functional, I discussed why it's not all about being just pretty. It's about being fast, functional, and delightful. I do believe you can have both, and you should strive and design solutions that you believe are beautiful. However, just like a user-centered design approach, a visual design shouldn't happen in a silo. We still want to test and iterate on the visual aesthetics to understand how your target audience perceives and feels in the environment when they experience it.
On top of that, we still have to maintain a high level of functionality that solves the problem for the user. This is why we need to be objective. Even if it's the most beautiful work of art and design that humanity has ever seen, it still has to serve a purpose. As I gear up and put my designer hat on for every design I create, it's like a balancing act. On one side, I want to push the envelope aesthetically, and on the other hand, I want to question how do those choices affect the overall functional reasons why users even use the product in the first place.
The questions occur on a page-by-page, feature-by-feature basis. So, how might we balance this? You do it by being objective. It is possible to test visual aesthetics with four or five people that use your product to get qualitative feedback about what they think about the visuals. But when you test this, you can't only focus on what they think about the visuals. You need to see if they can complete the most basic task at hand. If you simply ask what they think about the visuals and colors, it will ruin your results.
In testing sessions, your customers will call out if they don't like what they see. If they can't use it, you'll know immediately. Another way to balance your creative decisions is to think about your design language or design system. For example, if your customers work in the financial industry, then maybe your visual language uses lighter tones with black text, because they have to do a lot of reading and data analysis. You might make a strategic decision to go one way over the other because of your audience.
This is being objective, because you know the environment they're typically in. You wouldn't want to make it harder for them to consume the data with a vibrant color scheme. It would add noise to the experience, and that counters your core purpose. There will also be times when your partners and peers will push their views into yours. This is your chance to stay calm and collected as you hear their reasoning. You can quickly assess if it's opinion-based or if it can be proven.
The key insight is knowing the why, and seeing this perspective as an opportunity to learn about the way others see the world. I like to think that diverse perspectives in our reality are what shape our existence. Remember to set clear expectations by being vocal about the things we know we can control, and things that are out of our control. For example, let's say you estimate that a design challenge will take you three weeks from research to complete your design. But then, after a couple weeks of working, you find out that there are three new requirements to consider, which wipes out your entire direction.
When things like this happen, stay composed, and share your new expectations and timelines with your stakeholders. These situations are going to happen in the world of product design. So stay positive, and calibrate yourself to get back on track. If you'd like to continue the conversation, or have questions about managing design expectations, then I'd love to discuss them with you. Find me on Instagram at @abridewell, or tweet at me at @abridewell. I'm also available on Facebook at @practicalUXweekly, or you can post a question on our Practical UX Weekly LinkedIn group.
Thanks for watching, and I look forward to seeing you next time.
To continue the conversation with Drew and other user experience professionals, join Drew's Practical UX: Lessons from the Trenches LinkedIn group.
Make sure to check out the 2019 version of Practical UX Weekly for more tips and tricks.
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