Seven golden rules for creating a great user experience

When explaining User Experience to people I often talk about tasks – competitor reviews, heuristic reviews, usability and content audits, persona, user journeys, site mapping, wireframing, prototyping, user testing, etc. – the list is long and varied.

This is no mistake. I am “Productising” what we do so that our clients can get a tangible idea of how we can fit into their business and help them improve what they do online, via mobile, etc.

But tasks are just like tools in a toolbox; you have to pick the right one for the job. There’s no point trying to hammer a nail in with a screwdriver. So, what about the thinking behind the tasks? What principles do I follow to ensure I pick the right tasks for the job and deliver something top notch?

Here are the seven golden rules I try to stick to when introducing UX to our clients’ projects:

1) Make sure people really want it

Make sure people really want it

It’s easy to get lost in your own ideas when you’re creating something. You think it’s great, your mum thinks it’s great, your neighbour thinks it’s great, so it’s a sure fire hit, right? But what about the people who will use what you’re creating? Do they really want it, and if they do want it are you sure they can’t get it from somewhere else already.

One of the first things you should do is share your ideas with as many people as possible (copyright infringements notwithstanding). Ask for truly honest opinions and be prepared for your ego to take a bit of a bashing. It costs you practical nothing to talk to people and it’s a lot easier to change an idea than it is to change something you have invested a lot of time and money in creating.

2) Start simple

Start simple

Once you’re sure your idea has legs, take some time to prioritise what you want it to do. Try to do one thing really well (or as few things as possible). You will no doubt have a whole swathe of ideas but you don’t need to do everything in one go. By starting simple and adding things iteratively, you can learn from your users as you go and avoid wasting time and money on features that no one wants.

3) Avoid feature creep

Avoid feature creep

As you create something, you will undoubtedly come up with a bunch of new ideas that you didn’t think about at the start. You will also have plenty of other people stepping up with their opinions. That’s great – ideas are brilliant and should be encouraged but they are like iPads; nearly everyone’s got one. Once you’re up and running, deal with new suggestions in a controlled way. Put them through the same prioritisation process you adopted at the start and be prepared to park great ideas that don’t quite fit the core product.

4) Exploration beats expertise

Exploration beats expertise

People who start a sentence with “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I can tell you…” nearly always trip themselves up. I have been in plenty user testing sessions where I was fully convinced users would behave in a certain way, only to be proven wrong. When you become knowledgeable about something you become blind to all the little nuances and the only way to see those nuances is to watch through someone else’s eyes. Never be afraid to consult with your peers or your users and be prepared to really listen to what they have to say, without hubris or ego.

5) Take time to think

Take time to think

I know this can seem counter-intuitive at times – especially on projects with short deadlines – but you need to allow yourself time away from the actual doing to just sit back and think. It has been physiologically proven that the human brain is great at solving problems when given adequate time and space to process (there’s the whole left brain / right brain thing – I won’t go into it right now but there’s a great book on the subject called Imagine by Jonah Lehrer). I don’t know about you but some of the best solutions to tricky problems come to me when I’m in the shower in the morning, when my brain isn’t yet in full work mode.

6) Talk to your audience

Talk to your audience

It’s important to engage with the people for whom you are creating something. You need to keep in touch with their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. You need to make sure you understand them and you are creating something they actually want. But don’t ask them directly what they want, they probably don’t know. Henry Ford purportedly said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ask them questions that allow you to get a picture of who they are and how they are likely to use whatever it is you are creating.

7) Be prepared to bin it

Be prepared to bin it

It’s important to have ambition and vision, but it’s also important to be realistic. If after all your thinking and consulting you really think you need to go back to the drawing board, then say so and do so This becomes less of an option as your creation takes shape, but that’s why if you take on board these seven golden rules at the early stages of your project you shouldn’t need to start again.