Designers need to stop viewing themselves as “creators” and wear the “rebuilders” hat, in order to have a better understanding of their product.
If I had to hire new UI Designers for my team, I’d call all applicants to a meeting at the same day and time. And then, when everyone arrives, I’d split them in two groups. They would be in separate rooms, both with pre-installed cameras so I can watch their performance.
The first group would have the assignment of designing a new booking app. Immediately, I’d watch how every designer would launch their favorite interface design software to start adding some cool boxes, with smooth shadows, bold gradients, and maybe some stunning animations.
The second group would get this instruction: “Redesign a booking app”. And no further information would be provided. The cameras will show a bunch of confused designers, looking at each other and questioning “What is Nico talking about?” “Redesign what?” “What do I have to ‘re’design?”
Design Mindset vs. Redesign Mindset
This is what I’m trying to say: when you are in a ‘only design’ mindset, you don’t need to think too much about it. You only have to worry about the looks, and being honest, you can just copy any beautiful design you saw on Dribble, add a few twitches and you are done. It’s so automatic even robots can do it (and they totally are).
But when I talk to you about “re-designing” you are inevitably forced to think about a context. Redesigning means there was a previous attempt to design. It also means that that attempt had problems that needed to be solved, in order to craft a new version.
That small change in your way of thinking, that initial 20 seconds of analysis is the starting point that sets a new way of designing, which comes with a lot of features that add value to your design process. Not to mention that you automatically look more badass when you don’t just jump into action, but start asking questions first, like…
What was the previous attempt?
“But Nico, I have nothing to re-design. I am creating a really disruptive interface, my app is completely innovative in this world and no one has even thought about it”
Woah, easy there champ. I don’t wanna be the one that pops your bubble, but probably there’s already an app in Silicon Valley that solves the exact same problem as yours. And it has been already validated by lots of research, user testing and it’s in the development stage, iteration 3.
It will commonly appear in one of these ways:
- There’s a functional version in another country and you are working on a local version, adapted to your public.
- Other companies already tried it, but they failed.
But let’s say this is not your case: what you’re designing is completely and absolutely new. But again, you are working to solve a problem, and people, when faced byproblems, don’t just cross their arms and say “Well, there’s nothing I can do”.
No. They find a way around that problem. So your work is to find out what their current solutions are, and find out what are those problems, in order to understand…
What went wrong with the previous attempt?
Yeah, I get it. Sometimes is really easy to spot bad design, or bad usability, or bad UX. And is even easier to think that since we know terminologies like “tabbed navigation” and “progressive disclosure”, we can start working on solutions immediately. That’s the “Design Mindset”, the automatic response to a problem, relying only on basic UI knowledge.
It’s not totally your fault, fellow UI Designer. I understand that you have pressure from stakeholders, waiting for you to take out your magic wand and start giving usability like a grandma gives cookies on Christmas.
But here’s my advice: please don’t fall into that game.
The truth is that we will never work in an easy project, in which you can pop out the instructions guide and solve problems following the Heuristics you read about in Smashing Magazine. Because if it were that easy, robots would be doing it since forever.
Part of our job is to know nothing when we start working on a project. That being said, your opinions about what is a “good experience” are as valid as the CEO’s. And I’m talking about the kind of CEO that would recommend putting music in autoplay in your website .
The redesign mindset puts you in a humble position: You are not longer the know-it-all, solutions-handling designer. You are the guy that knows nothing about the user, but has the time and motivation to go and find out. So do it, talk to your UXD, do Guerrilla Research, or anything that implies getting off your seat to know more about your users.
What do I need to change?
Working with the Design Mindset gives you the blank state problem. Since there’s no previous design to review, everything is a new proposal, And with every new idea, comes a hundred of new sub-ideas and problems.
What will probably happen is that it will take a lot of time, effort and resources for you to try to solve an issue you found out, only to realize that, for you users, that’s not really such a big problem. Or even worse, that there is a real issue, badly hurting their experience, and you are not doing a single thing to fix it.
The redesign mindset gives you a starting point. Since you already have something to review, you can start by understanding that instance. And it can be done through a Usability Testing, or, in case there is no previous app or website, through observation and/or research about the current solution. With that, you can understand what are the things that bother your users the most, and start by solving them.