UX Isn’t An Exact Science–It’s Even Better

There seems to be this general rush in tech and UX community to get more serious about data-crunching, numbers, analytics, and statistics as a means to backup some fundamental truths about good and effective design. A

nd numbers are certainly important. A/B testing in particular is a staple of solid user experience design and optimization—so we can’t ignore them.  But (and this is a big one) not everything that’s true, exciting, or innovative about UX design can be captured in a series of charts or spreadsheets.  

We have to be open to possibilities that don’t always look like the same old data, and accept that uncertainty is part of this funny business of engaging with users and making them happy.  Generalizations and dogmatism won’t help us get there. 

Generalizations don’t always work.

Recently, Fast.Co Design ran an article with the designers from AirBnB about what UX research’s value is really all about.  

The gist?  UX research is, on the one hand, supposed to bring us hard facts, and on the other, it’s supposed to bring us uncertain possibilities.  And that’s where the excitement and possibilities for really groundbreaking technologies lives–not in the “established” “science” but in the bizarre untested terrain.  It’s the deep and specific insights that help power that innovation.

From Fast.Co Design:

“Embracing the humility needed to state the limitations of your work upfront is an increasingly important part of doing user research well. One consequence of doing so may be fewer people thinking you have the keys to some secret trove of universal wisdom about users. But another may be more people better understanding your role, which is to inject specific insights and inspiration—not always universal truths—into the process of building great products.”

But how do you embark on that process of actually embracing uncertainty and set yourself up for not only UX success, but UX innovation?  Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Toggle between research and optimization.

You might think a hard-and-fast User Experience Optimization process (which we’ve explained before) would be contradictory to the goals of innovative and cool new UX. Not true!  

Actually, employing UX strategically can free you up to try out some truly innovative UX techniques, processes, and elements elsewhere in your product development.

 It’s not that interview and user-based research is the only method you should be using throughout your process; it’s that you should toggle between established and new insights.  You don’t need to start from scratch every single time; just try clearing the slate and diving into unfamiliar territory sometimes.  Toggle is the key word here!

2. Don’t be afraid to change your user profiles as your users change

Somewhere along the way, you might realize that the business target you had in mind has changed.  You might be reaching whole new demographics than you originally planned (remember when Facebook was almost exclusively for college students, for example?), or your user base might literally be changing with the changing times.  So your user profiles may not be accurate anymore, and it might be time to construct new ones.  

That’s ok!  You’re an old pro at this, since you’ve done it before.  

Why not take a refreshed look at who your demographic is, what their needs are, and how you can more deeply engage them?  You might be pleasantly surprised by new directions you uncover.

3. Check out what the competition is up to.

While user experience design isn’t some kind of space race to the top, it can help you stay on top of your game if you check out what others in your market are employing design- and UX-wise.  

Obviously, don’t copy-paste their design, but maybe find some great new optimization insights just by scrolling through their platforms or apps.  There’s always more to learn and incorporate.

4. Hire a liberal arts major.

We’ve talked about this concept before.   You need rock-solid UX experts and designers for sure, but it also helps to have some people on board to bring your product life, freshness, wit, and personality. 

Take theatre major Anna Pickard’s job at workplace communication app Slack for example.  Her job is literally to create witty responses and interactions that Slackbot can engage in when users ask it questions.  It’s quirky, but also an example of very imaginative user engagement.

5. Get the whole team involved (and then some)

Cross-functional teams might be the ticket to the UX innovation train you never knew you needed!  But really, copywriters, marketing experts, and more can all give you great and much-needed insights in the user experience realm.  Just give them the opportunity.  

Try using a cross-functional team for an upgrade of a specific aspect of your user experience–and watch the quirky results shine through.

Want more examples of how you can upgrade and optimize your business’s UX?  We’ve got plenty more advice where this came from. Subscribe for GobySavvy’s email newsletter below.  We promise no spam, and always high quality content.

About the author:

Ryan O'Connor

Ryan has helped build compelling experiences for startups and Fortune 500’s around the globe, a passion he draws from his endless curiosity of psychology, computer interaction, and company culture. A published author and mentor with an M.S. in Human Factors, Ryan is on a mission to help companies discover the balance of creating delightful digital experiences while achieving business goals.