As a designer you’re expected to make the impossible happen. Time and time again, you’re expected to take an incredibly complex process and make it easy, simple and beautiful. When it’s handled well, you feel like a rock star.
When we fail to live up to those heavy expectations, it leaves many of us feeling… deflated. Designers tend to be perfectionists by nature, we’re our own worst critic. We take those mistakes personally, as if we’ve somehow ruined everything.
But these discouraging moments, if you accept them, are incredible opportunities for growth and learning. Here’s a dirty little secret: most of the mistakes you make aren’t your fault. here’s the terrible part: you’ll be punished for them anyway.
What we’re missing is a knowledge of people
It’s not like designers start a new job or project with the goal of screwing things up. With most of us it’s actually the opposite. We obsess over the little details, the insignificant things most people feel don’t matter. Most designers realize the importance of attention to detail.
That isn’t the problem. It’s what we don’t know. The things we weren’t taught that make a huge impact on our work.
If you’re formally (or informally) trained, you’re encouraged to study your craft. You’re expected to learn and understand the principles of design, about communication, visual and color dynamics, color etc. But there’s something missing.
What we’re missing is a knowledge of people. Designers aren’t taught to study people in school. We know our craft and we understand aesthetics, but we’re never really given in-depth training on people.
Our lack of understanding creates a knowledge gap. This gap affects our designs, leading us to make some incredibly common but unexpected UX mistakes.
UX mistake 1: Assuming users understand more than they do
Designers are reasonable people. They spend a lot of time dealing with user interfaces so they have an intuitive knowledge of how things work on the web.
“That’s common sense!” they tell themselves. Only it’s not common sense. It’s common knowledge to you, the designer. You spend a significant amount of time in this environment, so you just get it.
You’re a professional. Users? Not so much. This is why these assumptions are so devastating. We assume the users:
- Know which questions to ask
- Understand the controls
- Know what our icons, symbols and logos mean
- Give us their undivided attention
- Will read or follow the instructions we give them
- Know how to find what they want
See the problem? These assumptions are reasonable. Most designers have made these assumptions. And therein lies the problem. These assumptions aren’t based in reality.
- Some users are clueless
- Some are seeing and using our controls for the first time
- Others find our visuals confusing
- A few are distracted multi-taskers who are short on time or resources.
- Others refuse to follow your instructions
- While most aren’t sure they know what they’re looking at
Your job as a designer is to direct and thin the herd. Sort out those who are right for you, move them through your process, and get them to the finish line. Everyone else should be shown the door.
UX Mistake 2: Designing for the user
Design for the user. Design for the user! Over the years this piece of advice has been beaten into our heads. We’re told to focus on the needs of the user, to design things for and around them.
It’s a terrible idea.
“Why?”, you ask? Because this advice is often handed out indiscriminately. Users aren’t synonymous with target audience. The users interacting with your design aren’t always the “users” you want.
Take Google for example. They focus the vast majority of their attention on their users. Who do they consider their “user”? Searchers. They focus huge amounts of their time and many billions of dollars on making things better for searchers.
Are those the only “users” they have? No, actually. As it turns out, they have several kinds of them.
- Advertisers: Google knows advertisers will accept whatever they give them. They tell publishers and advertisers how they expect the web to be. Disagree with Google, do things your way and you’ll be punished for it.
- Bots: Google aggressively blocks unusual traffic (bots) from their site. Which means millions of false positives, searchers being blocked.
- Fraudsters: Google blocks deceptive websites; you know, the ones with those fake download buttons that install ransomware on your computer?
- Searchers: Regular people searching for something, anything online. These people make Google their money. They click on their ads, they use their apps, they download their software. They’re Google’s target audience, their meal ticket.
Google goes out of their way to ruin the user experience for those who conflict with their goals.
Google’s user experience is focused almost entirely on their users. The user experience excludes, to a certain degree, the people (or bots) who aren’t on that list.
If you’re an advertiser spamming searchers, you’re removed. If you’re a bot scrapping content from their search results, you’re blocked. Google goes out of their way to ruin the user experience for those who conflict with their goals.
I know, I know, the intention behind “design for the user” was supposed to focus designer attention on their target audience. But that’s something many, many designers miss, which leads to…
UX Mistake 3: Not enough friction
When it comes to design, “friction” is a resistance to any element in the process you’ve laid out.
Designers are conditioned to believe user friction is bad. Users won’t do what we want them to do if we don’t design things properly. That tends to scare us a bit.
All websites need friction.
What do you do if you’re listening to music and it’s too loud? You turn it down, right? Same thing with friction. Friction is a volume dial of sorts. Turn it up or down to adjust the users you attract.
Here’s how other websites have used friction.
- Craigslist: hates it when you re-post the same ad 50 times. They create friction with Ghosting. Create spam, re-post your ad too many times and your ad is quietly hidden from everyone else.
- Google: wants you to treat them with respect. Abuse the site, attempt to scrape content from search results and you’re flagged for unusual behavior. Ignore the warnings and you’re blocked.
- Quora: is a Q&A site. They have a simple policy. Be nice, be respectful. Those who ignore that policy are given a warning, blocked or banned. Their system is designed in such a way that it maximizes the user experience, ensuring Quora remains a safe place for others.
Friction is a problem for designers. They either don’t know how to adjust the dial to attract the users they want or they don’t know the dial exists. This means they’re either prone to overreacting or they’re chronically abused.
But what does that look like?
- Putting captcha forms on a contact form with three or four fields.
- Increasing the number of steps in any given process unnecessarily, increasing user drop off.
- Long pages filled with walls of text and visually similar information.
- Using lots of form fields when less will do. Increasing user fatigue and disinterest.
- Not using enough form fields so anyone and everyone gains access to whatever it is your design is offering.
- Generic visuals, stock photos and imagery decrease meaning and understanding. They increases user resistance.
- Asking for a user’s personal or financial information while doing your best to avoid showing pictures of your face, stating who you are, or anything about your story.
Friction comes in all shapes and sizes, but it’s something many designers struggle to wrap their heads around.
UX Mistake 4: Giving your boss what they want
Avoiding this UX mistake requires lots of courage. But it also requires something more important: a clear understanding of the goal.
That piece you’re designing, what is it supposed to accomplish? The website you’re developing, what’s the goal?
A clear, definitive answer to this question is mandatory
And the reason it’s mandatory? Your boss, the committee, a client, someone in charge is going to demand that you go against that goal. What’s worse is that you know what’s going to happen.
Your experience tells you this won’t end well. If you give them what they want things won’t go as well as it should. It may fail miserably. It’s easy to go along with the boss. “They’re the ones signing the checks, I just do as I’m told.”
It’s incredibly important that you speak up
It’s important that you fight for your boss, even when they refuse to fight for themselves. If they’re asking you for something that will hurt them, speak up. Deliver the bad news. Get them to understand the mistake they’re making.
A habit of not speaking up means your portfolio will be filled with mediocre work.
Most designers won’t do it. They’re afraid they’ll lose their job or hurt their career. Which is exactly what will happen if you say nothing. How do I know? Experience. Those mistakes are probably going to end up in your portfolio. A habit of not speaking up means your portfolio will be filled with mediocre work.
And the A-player employers, the kind you’d love to work with? They can tell. Make enough of these mistakes and it becomes difficult to hide.
What if there’s nothing you can do about these mistakes?
What if you’re part of a team where the planning and design decisions have already been made? Talk it over with others on your team. Make your case with solid evidence (e.g. research, reports, data, etc.). Then, make your case with decision makers. It feels impossible, but it’s definitely doable. Just start small and take it slow.
You’re a professional. You have the tools you need to find the UX mistakes others miss. You make the complex easy, simple, and beautiful.
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