A Project Guide to UX Design
I have a confession to make. I thought this book was going to be about User Interface Design; when ordering the book, I must have thought “UX” stood for User Interface rather than User Experience, which seems rather silly now. You might think that the two phrases wouldn’t be far apart in meaning; after all, a user experiences something through its interface. However, while there is overlap, user experience design encompasses a broader range of disciplines, and has a much more “project managery” feel to it. I didn’t realize the full extent of the distinction until about halfway through the book.
What is User Experience Design?
The broad definition of user experience design, as given on page 3 is:
The creation and synchronization of the elements that affect users’ experience with a particular company, with the intent of influencing their perceptions and behavior.
In this definition we can see two significant differences with user interface design. First, where user interface design focuses on just one point of interaction between a company/product and a user (i.e. the interface), user experience design looks at the broader picture — “touchpoints” from banner ads to customer service (though this particular book focuses on web-based experiences). More importantly, while user interface design is meant to make it simple and efficient for the user to manipulate the product, user experience design is meant to manipulate or influence the user.
This book, billed as being “for user experience designers in the field or in the making” is a sort of field guide for navigating a web-based user experience design project within the context of a large company.
Chapter 2 looks at defining the project (identifying what type of site you are building), and the diverse selection of roles a user experience designer may have to fill, from information architect to user researcher.
Chapter 3 covers the nitty gritty of preparing a proposal, and to me would have been better positioned at the end of the book. Though proposals and cost estimates are created at the outset of any project, it seems a better approach to understand the process of UX design first, and then look back and learn how to create a proposal for said process.
In Chapters 4 and 5, the authors describe what makes a solid project objective (it is easy to understand, specific, and measurable); cover waterfall, agile, and hybrid project methodologies (essentially, the timeline of the project and what will happen when); and how to define effective business requirements for the project. This chapter includes some rather amusing graphics.
Somewhat surprisingly, actual users don’t enter into this book until Chapters 6 and 7, which describe various methods of user research (providing a nice chart summarizing the definition, utility, and challenges of each), and personas.
Chapter 8, “User Experience Design and Search Engine Optimization” seems quite out of place here. While a user experience designer may be required to be a jack-of-many-trades, and know a little something about SEO, if you are designing for the search engine, in a sense you are no longer designing for the user. I think the authors would have been wiser to spend more pages on Chapter 7 – “User Research”, and simply provide some references for information on SEO.
Chapters 9 through 12 get into tools and methods for actually planning and designing the experience, including site maps, task flows, wireframes, and prototypes. One key take-away from these chapters is that, although you can invest a lot of time and effort into creating whiz-bang task flows and the like with expensive software, you can also do it cheaply and quickly, with whiteboards or pencil and paper.
Chapter 13 returns to the users themselves, with design and usability testing. The authors give a brief overview of the recruiting and testing process.
Aside from an out-of-place chapter on SEO and a few fairly useless visuals, this book is an excellent introduction to the field of user experience design. Furthermore, it provides a wealth of references throughout for further reading.
As for the question I posed before reading this book: “Am I interested in user experience design?”, while I’m glad to have a fuller understanding of the field, I’m not sure UX design is for me. My impression from this book is that, despite the name, UX design has a perspective somewhat contradictory to my training in product design. That is, it is concerned with business requirements first and the user second.
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