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September 1, 2016 /UX/UI Design /

Ask a UXpert: What Are The Biggest Misconceptions UX Designers Have About Users?

It’s easy to make assumptions about users, especially since this is typically part of the design process itself. Sometimes these assumptions are rooted in usability testing and user research; sometimes they’re based on a designer’s own experiences or desires, or other variables. At the end of the day though these assumptions come at the risk of designing experiences for users you don’t fully understand.

We asked a few experts to weigh in on what they think are some of the most common misconceptions their fellow UX designers have about users. Here’s what they had to say.

Users can be easily defined

When you think about it, it’s quite pretentious of us to suggest we can define and predict our users so accurately. People are flawed, we are unique and no matter how heavy that research deck is or how much it cost, it’s never going to define your users well enough. Humans don’t make optimal choices, we forget and we fail. Forgiving frameworks, understanding user intent and providing more than one way to succeed in a task are all important considerations for UX designers. It’s more than just learning; it’s about having an underlying sense of empathy for our users and knowing that we can never really know it all.

~Adam Furness, Associate Creative Director, Digilante

We can predict how a user will react

As technology becomes more personalized and predictive, we as designers have the potential to connect with users at so many moments in their lives, so it’s more important than ever to design for emotion. However, humans are complex and it’s impossible to predict someone’s emotional state. Carefully consider how your design decisions can both improve and ruin someone’s day. To be safe, I’ll often ask myself, if this person is having the worst day of their life already, how will my design make it worse?

~Drew Lepp, UX Consultant, Drew Lepp Designs 

Users are like us

This seems simple, but I’ve seen designers forget that users aren’t usually like them. Many designers, myself included, are privileged enough to have high-speed Internet and crystal clear, large-resolution monitors. But what happens when the connection is strained? How legible does that text look on an older monitor?

Our brains all work differently. To me, the most wonderful part of the human experience is how our diverse experiences make us each an expert at something in a unique way. But we also have to recognize those biases we have. For example, some people seem to be able to give detailed directions from anywhere to anywhere effortlessly, while others would struggle to get home without the aid of GPS.

Neither of these people is better than the other; they’re just different. Don’t ever say a user is stupid. If you say that, you’re doing your job wrong…so very wrong.

~Drew Lepp, UX Consultant, Drew Lepp Designs

Users are customers not humans

At times, user empathy can be confused or compromised by efforts from the design community to create a “grand reveal” when a far more simple approach may better serve customer interests. Often, it’s necessary to remind ourselves of the USER part of UX…that we’re addressing human needs that require simplicity, efficiency, and productivity to yield the best possible solutions. Impact is often best realized through what’s intuitive and seamless, rather than what’s tangible and obvious.

~Andy Vitale, Lead Interaction Designer, 3M Healthcare

We know our users’ goals

One exceedingly common misconception UX designers have, especially when designing for customer-centric experiences, is that they presume to know their users’ goals without actually asking them.

Many of us are taught the mantra “You are not your user,” but in the field we are often forced to take the most expedient route for the sake of time, budget, or both. User research is typically seen as an expensive and “nice-to-have,” but not a necessary step. This is why we have so many interfaces that look like templates with a nice visual aesthetic, but no real regard for empowering users to achieve their specific goals quickly and effortlessly.

User research need not be a long formal process in order to provide valuable feedback. It can be as simple as having informal one-on-one conversations or sending out a few surveys. I can’t tell you how many a-ha moments I’ve had by simply taking the time to talk to real users about how they interact with a system. Those moments guided my approach to those designs in ways that would never have occurred to me otherwise.

~Lisa Baskett, UX/CX Consultant, 

One major misconception as UX designers is we often think users know what they want. They don’t. We apply so many techniques to pull out information from Subject Matter Experts when too often these SME’s don’t have all the answers. It’s about analyzing and synthesizing this information and applying our craft and skill to design an experience that works. I often say “It’s called User Center Design not Ask User for Design.”

~Joe Johnston, Group User Experience Director, HUGE

Users think like us

As designers, we are focused on creating the best experiences for users, so we focus on the steps and interactions that users access to get things done. That attention to detail often makes us blind to the obvious: People just DO things. They open apps, access web sites, and figure things out in real time without paying much attention to “interaction models” or “information architecture.” Do you think there is a huge debate over the “hamburger menu” in user-land? Of course not.

Because we have such focus, we often overcomplicate matters, thinking that users will pay the same amount of attention that we as designers did. Nope. Their goals are not to learn a system, but to USE as system. This is why leveraging existing patterns and testing designs with users is important.

~Joseph Dickerson, UX Lead, Microsoft Services

Aesthetics > Experience

Another common misconception, again pertaining to customer-specific interfaces, is that the focus should be on a visually pleasing aesthetic to make an experience delightful without paying equal attention to reducing customer effort.

The ease with which a customer can navigate to the content he/she needs or to complete a transaction directly influences that customer’s perception of the brand. An effortless experience is by itself “delightful” for someone who is short on time or has already attempted to resolve his/her issue in other ways unsuccessfully. An experience design works best when it feels invisible and simply gets out of the user’s way.

~Lisa Baskett, UX/CX Consultant, 

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