The User Experience (UX) Lead’s job is to understand users. She’s the person on the team who’s responsible for translating the project vision into a product that end users can use easily and happily. This is not just about creating a product that’s beautiful to look at. It’s about conducting user research, testing and trouble-shooting in order to understand the end user’s goals and motivations, so the team can design a product that improves the user’s experience. The main job of the UX Lead on any project is to identify a product’s problem and create an elegant, intuitive and optimized solution for it. Without the UX Lead, the design team is merely guessing at what end users want/need, and most often end up solving the wrong problem, albeit in an aesthetically pleasing way. In other words, you end up with a pretty product that is of little value because it’s not focused on the exact goals of the end users. Through research, testing and design iteration, a good UX Lead makes sure that the product will increase conversion and/or advance the mission of the company. So how, exactly does the UX Lead make that happen?
The UX Lead’s job is divided into two phases. Phase one’s main focus is people, specifically the end users for any given product. In this phase, the UX Lead defines the user’s problem, from their perspective. This is done systematically and scientifically. Before the design phase can begin, user research needs to be done to understand the motivations, desired goals, perceived problems and frustrations of the end user. Without properly understanding the problem, the design team has very little chance of coming up with a useful solution. User design is proactive. It’s different from usability testing, which is reactive and happens after the first phase of the design process is completed. User research can be both qualitative and quantitative, is typically done in the field, optimally in the natural environment of the end users. The UX Lead will use various research techniques, as some methods are better suited than others depending on the specific case and the questions that need to be answered. Some examples of pre-design research techniques are: field studies, diary studies, surveys, data mining, and analytics. Since the study of the attitudes and behavior of end users is so crucial to successful user research, it’s quite helpful for the Lead UX to have a background in cognitive psychology.
Phase two’s goal is to collaborate with the rest of the team to come up with a solution to the problem defined in phase one. Once the problem is clearly understood, the Lead UX, working in concert with the art director, applies her research to strategize solutions for it. Some of the research tools the Lead UX will use to provide data that will facilitate the creation of a solid strategy are: card sorting, field studies, participatory design, paper prototype, and usability studies, desirability studies, and customer emails.
All this research means putting a premium on data, which limits the amount of guesswork involved in developing a design strategy. Working with experiential data is the best way for the team to formulate a solution that will truly solve the end user’s problem. In addition to focusing on data, a good UX Lead will never make design decisions based on what’s popular. Often design mistakes are proliferated because designers aren’t going about solving the user’s problem correctly, and instead are relying on following what other designers have been doing, and basing their own design choices on what’s popular, with only the vaguest understanding of how to strategize for the actual problem. It’s the job of the UX Lead to steer the team away from such dead ends. Along these same lines, the UX Lead will be able to help your design team understand why certain design strategies will work better than others for a certain group of end users.
Finally, the work of a UX Lead is crucial because she has a deep understanding of design. She can assess an interface and point out any design errors or limitations based on their lack of proper strategy (e.g., interrupted flow, cognitive loading) considering the overall design goal, instead of just seeing the superficial issues (e.g., visual clutter, color scheme). She will also do a thorough task analysis to figure out how to re-engineer clunky user tasks, instead of just automating already existing processes that are frustrating users. This deeper approach to UX strategy makes for more efficient task flows and a better overall end user experience.
Peter Morville developed an extremely relevant graphical tool called the User Experience Honeycomb, to explain each aspect of the user experience. The Lead UX works with user research data to answer questions about these aspects of UX and facilitate strategic design for the entire team.
- Useful – the more useful your product or website is, the better the user experience will be.
- Usable – your product or website should be easy to use.
- Desirable – efficiency is important but it’s also important to focus on the various aspects of emotional design, like branding and identity.
- Findable – (specifically for websites) users need to be able to find your website.
- Accessible – it’s important to make your product or site accessible to people who have disabilities.
- Credible – it’s important to design something credible. Understand the elements that influence users’ trust in what they see.
- Valuable – products and websites must deliver value to end users.
We’d love to chat with you more about the importance of having a UX Lead on your project team. Drop us a line!