Avoid Designs that are Against User Habits
My intention of offering reusable components did not work out well. One reason could be that the components were less noticeable as they were located at the end of the template. Another reason, and the primary one, was that it did not align with users’ habit.
Imagine you have a screenshot on a blank slide and you are about to annotate it. The most natural behavior for you would be opening the “shape” panel and start creating a new rectangle or circle rather than scrolling all the way down to find a pre-set annotation component. It can be a design insight for PowerPoint to add a floating panel for dragging and dropping components, but for now the design is not helping users.
It is possible for people to learn and adapt to the new system, but habit changing needs strong motivation and also takes time. For tools that people use on a daily basis, the best thing to do is avoiding designs that greatly against user habits.
Creativity vs Unclear Design
Talking to a lot of people and observing them using the template proved again that “users are unpredictable” and “your design may not be used as intended.” In some cases, we call that creativity, but in others, it might suggest unclear purposes of your design, meaning that users don’t know what it is or how to use it.
For example, in the template, I used an oval as a graphic placeholder where users can insert a image and get it in a round shape. But in the reality, I have seen people inserting numbers into the oval, using the oval as a background for icons and scaling images to fit the size of the oval. While there is no CORRECT ways of using the oval, I saw this as an indicator that people may don’t know how a shape can be used to crop an image. I then introduced this trick in the training material and spread the words when people came to me for support.
I am inspired to see these different variations derived from a single oval, and I am happy to share my perspective so that others might get inspired too. I realized that design, in this case, is less about establishing rules and principles, but more about sharing and exchanging ideas. However, if a design is supposed to direct users in a certain way, it’s important to make sure that the intention of the design is well-communicated to users. It is another topic beyond the scope of this article.
I was very lucky to get a supporting team and a group of users who appreciated my work and were willing to share their appreciation with me. They helped me understand which part they liked about the template, what I was doing well and boosted my confidence as a junior designer — see, I did make people’s life better!
On the other hand, I’ve met “unhappy” users and received negative comments on my work. At the beginning, I got into a defensive position easily and tried to argue for myself. But once I accepted and embraced these criticisms,I was surprised how educational they could be — they either lead to more comprehensive design decisions, better understanding of design process, or reflecting on my communication strategies.
I also found that a bonus of this project was that by talking to a lot of people about my work and ask for feedback, I actively advocated the idea of user-centered design and let it be known and understood by more people! GOOOOO UX!
Thank You Note
At the end of this article, I would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to my mentors Alvin and Grayson for their guidance and support, and two other brilliant UX designers in the team — Tanya and Dmitry, for their great advice. Thanks Lily, Amy, Ray and Aalap for their feedback on this article.