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3 simple rules for user centred design

Adi is one of our UX consultants here at Natural Interaction. Since joining us she's worked on lots of UX design projects for clients including National Trust and The Consortium. She's taken the time to somehow distill all of her experience into three simple rules for getting user centred design right.

Here they are:

TEST YOUR DESIGNS

Sorry about the shouty capitals but this is SO important. When you’re designing a site it’s easy to get caught up in your vision of the end result. You’ve mapped out this process from start to finish, you’ve seen similar designs work in the past and you know a well-known competitor has something similar. Notice how many times I’ve written the word ‘you’?

When you’ve planned something from scratch and have been through it over and over again of course it’s going to seem easy to you. You’re also probably more internet-savvy than the average user considering the job you do too. And, whilst your past experience can be invaluable on a project, remember that it can also hinder you. This is why you absolutely MUST test your design - because YOU aren’t the one who has to use the finished product - other people, your users, are.

User research provides incredibly valuable insights that you’d be crazy to miss out on by choosing to skip this step. Without it, you're going in blind - you're forgetting to switch the lights on. No only can user research help to prove or disprove your assumptions, it also helps you fail fast. This means that if you’re wrong in what you're doing, you can easily see the way back onto the right track.

There’s no reason to skip this step - it may add a little onto your budget to begin with but making sure you’re on the right track early on will avoid a costly track down the wrong path design-wise. You’ll be saving money in the long run.

Remember the human

Why are you redesigning this website? Because you’re being paid to it? Because your client wants to make more money? Yes, but also no. You’re redesigning it to improve the experience for the human at the other end.

Why does this matter? Because if their experience is bad then they won’t return & will deter other users from visiting. Or, if their experience is particularly bad, they won’t be able to achieve the goal they started out with when they arrived on the website. Without users, what purpose does the website serve? You should start by establishing who the users are. Then move on to why they’re visiting the website, what do they want to achieve from it? You aren’t just designing for nameless, faceless entities - there are real people with real goals on the other end of this - it’s your job to make sure they achieve their goal as seamlessly as possible.

Things that can help with this are depth interviews, personas, ethnography, but most valuable of all is user research which takes us back to rule #1 - test your designs! Now are you're starting to see why I think it’s the most important one? If you always test your designs then remembering the human is always going to be an easy rule to follow.

Balancing user & business needs with user centred design

There are a lot of different players involved in the different phases of a design project. And often each of these players can have a completely different set of expectations from one another. Not all of these expectations are going to be realistic or achievable. Whilst it’s important to listen to what your client wants, ultimately your goal is to design something with unbeatable user experience. Sure, a major competitor might have that amazing feature on their website. It might actually work really well for them. But that doesn’t mean that it’s right for your users and it’s your job to advocate for them. I’m not suggesting you refuse outright though! This is where we yet again come back to rule #1 which is to test your designs!

User research will tell you whether or not it’s the right call to include it. You could prototype it then test it, you could test the competitors site to prove it doesn’t work as well as they think, either way gives you solid evidence to back up your assumptions.

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