Understanding the value of UX

If you are at all involved with any type of online business, you have most likely seen the term UX Design used and abused. You’ve probably heard people try to explain what it is with colorful metaphors, that may be entertaining, but fail to really explain how UX Design serves the user.

The last thing any designer wants is to have a service they offer undervalued simply because the client doesn’t understand it clearly. I believe it’s important to note that the business owner’s goal is to sell their product, and to find a way to be clear about how UX design will benefit them and their customer.

I took this as a personal challenge — to help define the term UX Design in a clear and concise way that everyone was able to understand. I found this to be more difficult than I expected as people naturally focus more on the “design” in User Experience Design than the “user”. Personally, I believe the user should be the first consideration in designing anything.

Understanding value

All relationships have their foundation in values. It’s about what you bring and what you expect in return. Though each relationship is different, they depend on these values to be truly healthy. For instance:

My dog brings me happiness, daily exercise, and a feeling of responsibility and caring. In return, she gets exercise, food, shelter, and — most importantly — love in return.

My clients get an agency-like quality delivered without the bureaucracy. They’ll get it on-time and mostly without revisions. In return, I get long-term engagements and clients that adapt to my way of working. Also, I don’t have to chase new clients!

Facebook brings me updates from close and not-so-close friends. It really is a great experience and although there are things that could improve, the positives outweigh the negatives. The value it brings me in my daily life verify its worth. In return, I bring Facebook content and engagement. It might seem trivial, but it’s not trivial for Facebook.

What does this have to do with UX Design?

When people ask what a UX Designer does, one thing I tell them is that I help companies align their product’s value with the expectations of their users. They certainly don’t want their users to expect too much and end up disappointed. Honestly, even giving the user more than they expect can leave them feeling overwhelmed. This is why aligning values and expectations is so important. It’s the first step to building long term relationships with your customers.

Stable relationships thrive on balanced values. Each one of the examples above may be different in the values given/received, but without a balance, one side or the other will suffer.

Time vs. attention: everyday experiences have a cost

Like many of you, I attend my fair share of conferences over the year. In fact, The Conference in Malmö is one that I’ve loved attending yearly. However, this past year, I decided not to go. No, it has nothing to do with the speakers, the topics, or because my calendar is full of client work. It’s because I’ve come to a revelation: I simply can’t concentrate for an entire day — and I bet you can’t either.

If I’m too busy to take something on, I shouldn’t say “I don’t have the time”. In fact, I often do have the time. It’s not that hard to squeeze in some extra time for someone. What I don’t have – and what I can’t squeeze in – is more attention. Attention is a far more limited resource than time. — Jason Fried

While I may have the time for more projects, conferences, and other random stuff, I don’t have the attention for it. Other projects or my personal life would suffer from borrowing attention from them. I’m less and less willing to make that sacrifice. A conference, meeting, or app require effort. Sure, I could squeeze in 7 meetings a day, but my attention only will allow 3 or 4 of those to be productive.

What does this have to do with UX Design?

You need to look at the experience you’re crafting — a conference, app, or a store — and be able to understand the attention span it requires. I can keep my attention focused at a conference for around 4 hours, but I don’t even last an hour browsing Facebook.

Just as it’s important to align your values for your user, it is equally important to understand their attention span. Many product owners can only measure their success as “time spent on site”, but I’m not sure if that is really a good metric. Is longer better? Does that really mean they love browsing your site? Or are having a hard time finding what they’re looking for?

Learn to create valuable UX

Designing for user experience is a lot more layered than we give it credit for. It’s far more than just understanding how button placement can affect a user’s decision making process. It’s understanding how your user values the experience you are presenting to them.

It’s as if that experience respects how the user is going to use it and not be demanding, or neglectful, of their attention. It’s about finding the user’s measure of “just right”.

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