User Experience (UX) design is a skillset that's in high demand across a wide range of product-led companies, as the role entails a fundamental focus upon customer/consumer overall satisfaction with products. A primary focus of all UX designers is upon improving the product UX in a variety of ways, such as making it more fun, easier to use or quicker to operate/run. UX designers need to empathise with the end user to ensure products are logical, intuitive and streamlined to provide the best possible experience. Jimmy Elias is a Senior Experience Designer, based in Cologne, and believes that responsible UX design is a critical consideration for everybody working in this field.
The principal focus of the work carried out by Jimmy Elias is on experience design and user experience design and he feels strongly that a primary aspect of all experience designers’ job is taking responsibility for any works carried out. Examples of user experiences which could be classed as irresponsible could include user experiences which are designed in a manner that creates user addiction or experiences that have a manipulative effect on the end users. Sometimes user experiences are designed to meet specific intentions, but they can end up having an impact or effect upon the end user that was really not planned. Jimmy Elias comments that: "Sometimes we design stuff and there is maybe 50% where we can never know exactly how the user would behave, depending on time, or different target audiences just to name a few. I feel designing responsibly is something we must take care of way more than we do at the moment".
He feels that some key pointers likely to help ensure a responsible user you start with a re-briefing session sitting on the same table with these stakeholders experience design include:
- Making a change of mindset in the initial stage of any user experience design and before even contemplating methodologies and solutions. It's important to consider fully the context of the creator and innovator framework. This means finding meaning before even thinking about solutions. Then using this mindset in basic activities like brainstorming or ideation can help with this and will make the move into the creative process far simpler.
- Jimmy says that creating a user experience design or concept that's totally geared towards market forces cannot really be justified. So, following in the steps of other companies that are just playing to market forces is definitely the wrong direction for any company to take.
- He says it is also important to ensure there is meaning within any design. Where products have been created with all required interface tasks and then moved on to development and production, it should not be the case that UX designers “then” come along to ascribe meaning to the design. It's important that meaning is ascribed to any product in design long before this.
Embedding meaning into designs
Jimmy Elias is adamant that embedding meaning within the context and story of any product is absolutely vital for ensuring successful user experiences. He comments that: "I don’t mean to be against any specific methodology or a certain phase of the creative process. I still do go through these activities and I do recommend continue using them. However, we should be aware not to fall into the trap of misconception of what is meaningful for the user and what type of emotional response we aim to get from this user”. He added that UX designers should take a step back to take stock of every design experience to consider whether it is actually meaningful or not. Just because a solution is devised, this is no absolute guarantee that meaning has been created, as designers should be critical and adopt a problem-solving mindset. He refers to the evolution of mobile apps such as WhatsApp becoming a phone call app and the launch of Instagram Stories and how fitting and meaningful these apps are in the context of contemporary lifestyle requirements. Instagram Stories have enhanced the platform immensely and are a thoughtful move on from their initial photography platform. The launch of WhatsApp status is along similar lines to Stories and in Jimmy's opinion not at all meaningful or relevant to the platform.
Jimmy recommends that although UX design methodology was probably the same in both instances, it would have been wise to hold comprehensive brainstorm and ideation sessions prior to any launch and as part of any preliminary research activities. He added that when his team works on personas and other UX exercises, they always define the target group so that language can be more user-centric. It's always critical to put the users firmly ahead of any thoughts on brand or product.
Not all focus should be placed on the target group, as it's also important to maybe consider “non-target groups” to ensure designs are inclusive in every way. So, when Jimmy's teams are targeting groups of women in their mid-30's for a brand, they also give consideration to other age groups and to men. This is all part of a responsible design approach and helps ensure holistic user experience design.
Challenges to responsible designing and team working
One of the major challenges faced by UX designers is managing to ensure that all team members and the business hierarchy are working off the same page. It can be difficult to coordinate the differing demands of product managers, product owners, technology departments and teams working within the development function. Where UX designers want to design responsible solutions it's important to encompass the viewpoints of all the above business departments within the wider user experience solution.
Jimmy Elias comments that involving these different stakeholders and clients within the design of user experience helps educate clients. He says: "I now work with multi-national clients, where you have enough time when you include a bigger horizon, where you don't take just the given, even if there's a very detailed, greatly professionally done briefing from the client. You start with a re-briefing session sitting on the same table with these stakeholders and the creative/strategic team and then just discuss and re-define. It shouldn't be changed, but just like re-discuss or re-write these attributes for the brand, to reconsider the brand's value, to reconsider from the UX point of view also, where the values are. In such a phase, you revisit the brand’s mission, attributes and values from a UX point of view. In most cases, you alter this mission and redefine it with the client and set principles – general ones as well as experience design ones.”
It's important to consider brand values and attributes, alongside business mission statements, in a holistic manner within the design for any successful user experience. Jimmy believes that no matter how successful a brand is, no matter how big a client is, they are always open to re-discuss and even redefine their mission. He says: “We live in times where change is the only constant. In a nutshell, we need to find the sweet spot spread between the UX approach and the brand approach. That doesn't mean just to merge (as we usually tend to merge) these both with the experience, but rather meet on the sweet spot and then create the experience”.
Some other challenges faced by responsible UX designers include:
1. Maintaining total transparency with clients and end users, so that all available content is communicated to the user and with the user’s needs and expectations in mind.
2. Ensuring that responsible designs incorporate accessibility and inclusion
Sectors in which responsible UX design can be critical
Responsible UX design really does apply to all sectors of industry, but some sectors where it's very important to include healthcare, gaming, banking, finance. Industries that only produce digital product and services by way of mobile app technologies should strive to meet the most stringent user experiences, as it's so easy for consumers to access these products. It's vital that consumers are not fooled or hoodwinked in the way they interact and use products.
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Thank you to Jimmy Elias, Senior Experience Designer at Publicis.Sapient for speaking to us about responsible user experience design. It was certainly an interesting read. While you are here, don't forget to check out some of our other brilliant User Experience articles:
- The State of UX by Dr Nick Fine at Eurostar
With his areas of expertise ranging from remote user testing to transformation through user experience, we asked Nick about the state of UX, exploring why he believes the definition has changed in recent years.
- Hiring a UX team on a lean budget by Paul Lyngby-Trow at TravelRepublic
We talked to Paul about hiring a UX team on a lean budget, and how you secure more funding for user experience staff down the line. We also talk about other brilliant and interesting topics, such as the Specialist v Generalist Debate.
Meanwhile, we are a specialist User Experience Recruitment Agency. We lead the market with our unrivalled database and our expert User Experience Recruitment Consultants. Send us a job brief here.