Crafting a good user experience starts by understanding users, their needs, and their motivations, and then designing for them from a place of empathy. But it shouldn’t stop there. Empathy and intuition inform decisions on creating architecture and wireframes, but crafting a great user experience requires validating decisions with user testing and iteration.
I know how to perform research, interview users, and analyze data to design or redesign the information architecture of digital products in a way that’s best for users. My opinion, or my client’s opinion, isn’t enough information—that’s just guessing (even if it’s an educated guess). I prefer to make decisions based on user data, and validate those decisions with user testing and iteration.
Think of information architecture as how your website or app is organized; the structure of your product is central to how it works and is too important to leave to chance. I’ve helped launch 50+ digital products so you can rest assured I know this process like the back of my hand.
Wireframes & Flows
Way back in 2006, when I first earned Adobe certification in HTML and CSS, I learned that you started a website by asking clients what they wanted and then you jumped in to Photoshop/Fireworks/Dreamweaver to design web pages.
I—and the entire industry—have since learned there’s a better way.
Nowadays, I start by asking clients what they want and then—crucially—interview users to discover what they need. Unsurprisingly, client desires rarely align with user needs, but if you want a good user experience, you must choose user needs over client desires.
User-informed information architecture and content structure, coupled with available technology features and constraints, lead to wireframes (low-fidelity representations of a website or app) and flows (tracing how users move through a product) which in turn lead to user testing to validate design decisions, and design iteration to correct ill-informed decisions.
Being low-fidelity, wireframes & flows are quick to implement, so we learn a whole lot in a very short time. When you’re spending significant financial resources on a digital product, it’s best to make quick user-centered decisions prior to investing time and money on visual design and code development just makes sense.
A Rapid Prototype is an interactive wireframe—a clickable, low-fidelity representation placed in the hands of a tester to learn more information than can be gleaned from static wireframes. Rapid prototypes are particular useful in sorting out navigation issues, determining if users understand interface elements, and discovering if interactions make sense.
Rapid prototypes can range from extremely crude clickable pencil sketches (seriously, that’s a thing) to mid-fidelity mockups with clickable, swipe-able interfaces all the way up to front-end HTML/CSS. Regardless of the level of detail, all rapid prototypes are created prior to any production-ready code.
If you ask me what fidelity is best, my answer is: “the fastest, least expensive one that lets us discover the information we need for this specific project.”
I don’t recommend rapid prototypes on every project, but in many cases—especially mobile apps—it makes a lot of sense.
User Testing & Validation
I can make all the assumptions I want, but at they’re best educated guesses. Even if I base my decision making on user interviews and baseline testing, I’m still just guessing. The only way to know for sure if the UX is good is through User Testing & Validation.
Question: if an auto manufacturer designs a new car using their vast knowledge and experience on engineering safe vehicles, will the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration take the manufacturer’s word that the vehicle is safe?
Answer: Hell no, the NHTSA will test that claim by crashing the car into a brick wall.
We learn my making mistakes. By failing. By crashing that car. Only then can we learn how it breaks, where it breaks, why it breaks, and how to make it less breakable.