Journey to The Heart of UX Design: Debunking Myths

Design doesn't showcase a company so much as it enables its users to tell a story. It's everything from the initial idea to the last pixel. Tom Rau sheds some light on the common misconceptions surrounding our work.

What makes a truly great car? Beauty? If that were the case, then every millionaire in the world would drive a gaudy, two-hundred-thousand dollar sports car. While they are often undeniably beautiful, many sports cars leave much to be desired: they lack storage; they are bad for the environment; they are uneconomical… the list goes on and on.

On the flip side, there are some remarkably reliable cars that can get a person from here to there for a very reasonable amount of money. But how many people want to show up at a business meeting in a Ford Focus?

Many of the world’s most successful car companies share something in common: they don’t just settle for making great cars; they offer something more. BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen sell an experience – a vision of driving. As an owner, they make you feel as though you’re part of something larger.

Do you remember Volkswagon’s Fahrvergnügen campaign?

The road less travelled

Fahrvergnügen, directly translated, means driving pleasure. This is what Volkswagen drivers want: something beyond the “everyday” experience of getting to and from work; something better. At the end of the day that’s what good UX design is all about: giving people a product or service that amplifies (or transcends) their experience.

It sounds simple but, along the way, we often forget. People often confuse “good design” with “good looks” and while looks are certainly part of it, actual design is more than just skin deep. Recently deceased Apple CEO and user experience genius Steve Jobs summed this up perfectly when he said: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Good design doesn’t showcase a company’s vision so much as it enables that company’s users to tell a story. User experience design, then, encompasses everything from the initial idea to the last pixel on a page. It is about performance and efficiency, intellect and emotion. It is about solving problems and finding the optimal way to affect users with a sense of purpose.

Assuming you have a great designer – a true expert who understands form, functionality, and emotion – it’s easy enough for them to offer a relevant experience… but is it exceptional?

The danger zone

Yet another common misconception regarding design is that any designer will be fine for basic user testing. While the expert designer’s review can certainly be useful in finding obvious usability issues, it is never a substitute for good, wholesome user testing.

It’s probably apparent by now that there are many misconceptions about what constitutes good user experience design. Talking about it is easy, but defining it is difficult. The best way to avoid (almost all) of the common traps is to never forget that good design centers around serving content – be that a message or an idea.

If you are interested in learning more there are plenty of great resources:

  • First and foremost, you’re reading this blog which is an incredible source of information and always shedding new light on the world of UX and many of the obstacles we have to overcome as a young and highly misunderstood field.
  • Box and Arrows features podcasts, cutting edge articles, and a job listing board.
  • What more, UX myths helps dispel many of misconceptions about design and user experience in general.

Regardless of how you choose to look at it, we are in the midst of a user experience boom. There’s information and misinformation around every corner. Hopefully, though, armed with this knowledge and a few good resources, you can begin to differentiate for yourself.

To theyself, be true

User experience design enables us to effect a sense of purpose. It facilitates a conversation between the audience, the designer, and the object being designed. To that end, start by learning what your users really want. Then use design to exceed it: form and function, intellect and emotion. It is, as cheesy as it sounds, not only about creating a great product but also delivering something more: a real, exceptional experience.

About the Author

Tom Rau

Tom Rau is the resident jack-of-all trades at Knurture, a small boutique UX/UI consultancy in Durham, North Carolina. His career spans the worlds of jazz, writing, probability, and user experience where he now works to make the internet a better place. Contact him at tom@knurture.com

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6 Comments

  • Evgenia Grinblo Reply

    Very much on point here, Tom! “User experience design, then, encompasses everything from the initial idea to the last pixel on a page.” is a point I have to make often with clients and non-UX colleagues. We’ve recently adopted an agile work process in our company and have very much been faced with the same kinds of myths and truths as often surround the UX industry. In both, something that’s helped me put the message across has been simply asking “What value does this activity (/feature/decision) bring to the user?” It seems silly to have to remind folks that the center of UX is the user but it needs to be done more than you’d imagine. Thanks for this article, it gets the message across nicely and offers some good resources to look at.

  • Tom Rau Reply

    Thanks for the kudos guys. Evgenia, yeah I decided to start writing some about UX in hopes to better be able to illustrate to our clients the need for UX and to just help them get a better idea of what they are getting into. It’s funny because it is a field which is very much abstract and yet common sense at the same time. Anyway, we also work agile at my firm. I like the idea of posing that question to them. We might have to start trying that. Thanks again

  • David Hamill Reply

    I’ve been meaning to write a blog on this topic for quite some time and never managed to get round to it. Well done.

    It’s true that you can’t totally replace the good old usability test. But you may not always have the time or budget to do this at each stage of your project.

    I’m biased in saying this but if you do need to replace testing with an expert review, then the expert should be someone who has observed a lot of usability tests and not someone who thinks they are a good designer. After all the expert needs to draw on the experience of watching user behaviour and not the experience of designing stuff.

  • Tom Rau Reply

    David, I think you bring up some great points. I agree that designs are done without usability testing all the time. That being said, it’s called user experience design and not designer experience design for a reason. If we don’t test it with users i’m not sure it’s technically user experience design. It’s just (insert design type) design. That being said, I completely agree that more intuitive and higher functioning designs are always going to come from people with more experience and knowledge of user testing.

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