Why Your UX Designer Just Won't Cut It
By now, we all know how important user experience design is in the process of building a product. So much so, that it is now common practice for tech companies to employ at least one UX designer on staff to help them get it right.
And who do companies hire to design their user experience? Either a graphic designer (who also does UX), or a product manager (who also does UX). Managers tend not to be fully sure what user experience really means, other than a feeling that things fit better on the screen or make users click on certain buttons more. So they naturally tend to hire based on very little. "Oh, you do UX too? Good. We totally need that".
User experience designers split into two groups:
1. A graphic designer or product manager who read a book or two (around 95% of those hired for UX).
2. A professional user experience designer, who is fully versed in the science behind the human brain, from neuroscience to behavioral economics and practical psychology (this one takes a little more work).
Professionals are rare and hard to come by, though. Through sheer frustration with the 'also a UX guy' trend, they've changed their titles to 'interaction designer' or 'behavioral designer', and sit in awe at every botched design job they get hired to fix. Graphic designers, who are also UX people, tend to make amazing looking interfaces, that are often unusable. Beautiful and original icons that no one can figure out what they are for, together with vibrant colors that look perfect, but highlight the opposite of what they should.
Product developers, who are also UX people, keep everything in pristine order. Every function will receive its own button, tab, or menu option, and every subject its own page. Eventually, users finish reading and find what they are looking for (or simply click away).
The problem gets compounded when companies outsource their development. Naturally preferring the 'one stop shop' approach, they look for a company that can design, and code their project. But that is ill advised.
Development companies use 'also a UX designer' too, only they are the sort that end up making the design as elaborate as their bosses would like to bill for. Their customer is their boss, not the company that commissioned them.
Orr Innovation has been dealing with this sort of thing for a while. Companies will hire us to critique their product only after a mountain of negative feedback has been thrown at them from their customers. If they're lucky, our report will have a few quick fixes to human proof their products, but all too often, the solution is a full redesign.
Product design is a full and separate step in the development process. If done professionally, it can create a streamlined product embedded with a great user experience, as well as pay for itself with savings on the development side.
A true behavioral designer, will be able to build products with the right incentive structure using gamification, and dot the whole thing with helpful microcopy to reduce stress. Behavioral designers know what chemicals are released in the user's brain at every step; they know what is too confusing and (most importantly) how to make customers keep coming back.
Not all in-house UX designers are like this, of course. Some do an amazing job every time. Here and there, when hired to do a critique, we get to tell companies that their product is just fine the way it is. Just hang in there, and the users will come. It's rare, but it happens.
User experience is a branch of behavioral design. It is based on a lot of science and should be taken seriously. If you feel your in-house work isn't cutting it, perhaps it's time to let the professionals take a look.