Reflecting on 2015: UX Successes & Failures
The new year is upon us leaving many of us the opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months. What have we done? What are we going to do? What was good and what was bad or needs work?
In terms of being a user experience and interface designer, I am ending this year on a much lower note than I started…or so it would seem. The beginning of this year was one of discovery, opportunity and establishing a UX presence at our organization. I had been touring the world (or at least it felt that way) talking with users, conducting testing, presenting research results and making recommendations to our stakeholders. After nearly three years of working, it felt as though our team was beginning to establish a foothold. And I think we are. But, it is a much smaller foothold than I originally thought.
Right around the beginning of summer, we embarked on a new project to completely revise our software. We had plenty of feedback on the software and a lot of areas to improve upon. In addition, the visual design of the interface needed an update – a point I had been evangelizing for a few years. So, we finally got to the place where we could make some major changes and were given the green light to start with a blank slate – completely reinventing our software. And I was the lead (no pressure).
This – to me – was a designer’s dream. You can do anything you want within reason. And we had plenty of ideas. But, do you ever really start with a blank slate as a designer? I think it is rare. We had a number of constraints to work with to include:
- Time versus manpower – we had a small team and our timeline wasn’t significantly increased. This left us with a lot of choices for features and design ideas we had to cut.
- Product Managements’ desired features – you have to factor in the new products we release and how the software will support them. This meant we had new features we had to design so that this project was not just a redesign effort.
- The organizational vision for the new version – you can’t design in a silo forever and ultimately have (and need) voices that will creep into the process. So beyond Product Management, you have other requests for features or improvements. Once again, this becomes a timeline issue.
- Branding/Marketing – you can’t get around this one. The biggest problem for us became the color palette. We had branding colors black, red, white and gray for one of our products. Technically, only one of those is a true color.
In addition to the above, we also lost a member of the team leaving us even more cramped for time. But the point is: You never really have a blank slate as a designer.
On the upside, things really have changed since I arrived here. Developers, Product Managers and our internal audiology staff actually seek our team out for answers to questions. Our input is heard now more than it ever has been in the past. And, it is not uncommon in meetings for someone to turn to me ask what my vision was for a certain feature or design. Developers and staff regularly collaborate with us on design and we often reach a decision as a group rather than UX simply proposing a design that is accepted, no questions asked. In short, we feel heard and needed. And, this is part of what keeps me motivated and coming in each day.
Yet sometimes the negative can overshadow the positive when reflecting on an entire year. The first half of the year, started well and the last half has been utter chaos with a time crunch keeping us focused on the micro versus the macro.
A byproduct of all this is that I have spent so much time wireframing and designing that I have lost a good amount of joy for the process. I have even found myself questioning whether I want to continue designing for a living any longer. The benefit of being a UX designer for me is the variety of the work. Building wireframes for 9-10 hours per day for weeks on end can burn out the most diehard of us.
Another aspect that concerns me as the year ends is how much UX we have marginalized in favor of building an interface. User testing, user research and UX strategy have all taken a backseat to my other obligations. They have had to. It is absolutely essential to push these items to the back burner in order to fulfill deadlines.
What bothers me most as the year ends is I am not sure I am building a product that will enhance the experience of the user in comparison to the product as it exists today. My job title is Senior UX Designer – the “UX” obviously standing for user experience. It is the most important element of my work – to enhance or build a good experience for the user. When I am not sure I am doing that, I arrive each morning to work on something I feel less passionate about than I should.
Some of the events of the year are my fault. I cannot take credit for the successes and bow out on the failures. Had I to do this project all over again, there are a number of things I would do differently – none of which guarantee a better outcome.
So I end the year on something of a sour note while still recognizing we have made some headway in terms of UX. But the new year is also a blank slate for me. Normally, a reflection on a year passed should leave a person with a desire to improve those elements that maybe did not go so well. In terms of my daily work, I am not sure I have any distinct goals at this point. However, I do believe there is room for improvement in terms of this column. I can heighten the frequency of publication and return to some topics I have broached in the past that seem very popular with readers. I also think I can become more involved in the local UX community. This will ensure I grow through external resources. And last, I have the first draft of a book on UX research I would like to revise, finalize and publish this year.
It has been my experience in life that when you don’t find success in one place after repeated attempts, you look elsewhere or try something different. The caveat is in determining when to quit and when to keep plodding along. To me, this is what 2016 will be about – figuring out which direction to go.