unConference 2012 Recap

The need for UX is strong, but not fully understood

My mission at the MassTLC unConference was to be a UX design megaphone.

This year’s unConference, held at Hynes Convention Center in Boston, was filled with roughly a thousand entrepreneurs and seasoned business professionals looking to network, learn and teach. My goal was to answer all the burning questions about UX Design.

During the UX session I co-hosted with Fresh Tilled Soil’s Richard Banfield, we did just that. The entrepreneur’s questions reflected their understanding of UX design, and in the end, led me to new conclusions on the Boston business community’s UX needs. Here are a few of the questions we fielded:

1. Are UX and UI the same thing?

The short answer is no. One great example to illustrate the difference is the 1-Click process, from Amazon.com. Amazon’s 1-Click process was created to provide a purchasing experience with the least amount of friction; this creation is UX [Design]. UI, or UI Design, is a specific area within UX, dealing with the visual design and surrounding interface. Simply put, UI can be seen, whereas UX can only be experienced.

2. How do you meet customer requirements across product redesigns?

Product redesigns are strongest when responding directly to customer requirements, so the first answer to this is to follow the data.

If your feature exists in a prototype phase, your data may come from feedback gathered from existing customers. Alternatively, if your product is in an earlier stage (i.e. few customers, or still in the idea stage) – go with the hypothesis-driven approach. Here’s a framework you can use to drive innovation and success at your company:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Clearly state the hypothesis
  3. Validate the hypothesis

That said, there’s also one thing to avoid: Don’t blindly follow a competitor. You have no way of knowing why even the most successful competitor is succeeding. Instead of imitating someone else’s UX, talk to your customers. From your customers you will learn how to create the best experience for them. Everyone on your team can contribute to the UX effort, and everyone on your team should be talking to customers.

3. How do you handle team conflict?

Team conflict often comes from a lack of concrete information. To resolve issues, look at the hard data: what are your customers asking for or complaining about? When you solve the issues your customers are concerned with, you will be improving their user experience.

Now that Google and Apple are putting UX first, it’s raising the bar for software companies. You need to coach your team members who are unfamiliar with UX and educate them on the benefits, but back up your statements with data so you don’t get into a “he said/she said” situation.

4. Is it okay to design something that is way ahead of the times?

Use MAYA to find the balance on forward-thinking designs.

People have basic expectations for any product, and those need to be met in web or mobile software. You need to find out what your audience’s basic expectations are, and then you can push forward just a little bit; in the end, that’s the best way to exceed their expectations. Just be sure to test with a small segment of a customer base before a full release.

5. What prototyping tools do you use?

If you do have online tools at your disposal, here are some that can aid in the prototyping process:Before we get into web-based tools, we need to take a step back and remember that we have one of the best and most immediate tools right in front of us: Marker and Paper. (One of the tangents discussed was the use of paper prototyping, which is an excellent way to validate early concept designs in a fast and cost-effective way.)

  • Balsamiq (used at Above the Fold)
  • Mockup Builder
  • POP App Factory
  • Proto.io
  • Omnigraffle (Mac only)
  • Keynote with Keynotopia (Mac only)
  • PowerPoint with Keynotopia

Theory: Proven

The entrepreneurs and business professionals I met at the unConference all had one thing in common: they were dedicated to learning about UX in order to improve their products. I entered the conference under the belief that many business folks have heard about UX design, but they do not fully grasp what it is, how it benefits their business, and how to design for great experiences. But, I was only half right. While some people had a clear understanding of UX, many still have a lot to learn.

If you are one of the many who have unanswered questions, now’s the time to ask! These questions don’t need to wait for the next unConference. I invite all of my readers to ask me any UX-related questions in the comments section below. Also, be sure to check out our new eBook for beginner’s tips and advanced tricks: 50 Best Practices in UX.