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10 Rules for UX Beginners

Getting started with UX can be overwhelming. There’s a lot to do and even more to learn. Whether you’ve just learned that this field exists or have a few UX projects under your belt, knowing and avoiding common pitfalls of the trade will save you time and headaches down the line.

To help ease that burden, we’ve prepared a list of 10 rules for beginners in UX. While this guide is primarily tailored to UX designers, other UX professionals may also find it beneficial. Let’s begin!

1. Listen to Your Users.

If you are an experienced designer or an otherwise avid web user, it can be easy to think you know the best way to design a product or experience. But odds are, you’re wrong. Or at least, you’re not completely right. Why? Because you aren’t your user.

Your users are subject matter experts when it comes to experiences that are built for them. Even if you happen to be a consumer of the product or service you’re designing for, you can’t possibly recognize all of the use cases or identify the hurdles within your own design. So, if your team has a UX researcher, get friendly with them and listen to their suggestions.

If there is no UX researcher on your team, do the research yourself. Even if you feel you have no time or money to research, remember that a little bit of investigation is better than none. You may be surprised at how much you can learn! You may even discover you did not fully understand the problem you were trying to solve in the first place.

So learn a few basic UX research methods, go forth, and build! This is the most important rule every UX professionals should follow.

2. Don’t Ask Users What. Ask Them Why…and Observe.

Users can easily tell you what they want. However, it may surprise you to learn that acting on this feedback often won’t make user experience that much better. That’s because some of the adjustments they suggest will not necessarily help them complete the tasks on your website or in your app more efficiently and easily, which is your ultimate objective.

Generally speaking, you can ignore comments on things like colors and visual aspects (unless they genuinely inhibit usability). While most people tend to have strong opinions in these areas, you are not a graphic designer and your job is to design the functional aspects of the product.

The best way to decide if a piece of user feedback should make it to your lists of things to change is to observe how users interact with your design. If you cannot physically observe users interacting with your product or design, website traffic can be a proxy for mapping out the user journey. Identify pages with surprising statistics (like pages with high bounce or exit rates) and ask your users why they made certain decisions. While quantitative data is valuable, it doesn’t give the full story. Questions on-site can be a low-cost alternative (or supplement) to user research.

3. Don’t over-analyze. Keep moving!

Don’t get stuck in the weeds by endlessly conducting user research with countless benchmarks. You need to start somewhere and the sooner you do it the better. What you are trying to do is get user feedback from mockups (unless you have existing app or website you are changing) rather than talking in circles about a hypothetical product or experience.

If you are stuck, try rapid prototyping. It’s an excellent way to force yourself to come up with a couple of mockups and channel your thoughts, conclusions, and insights into a design. This technique can help you to identify which ideas should be rejected as they will not work well with the flow, information architecture, or other aspects of your design.

4. Think Outside of the (Design) Box.

With time, you’ll likely have a set of design techniques that you return to for all projects. This isn’t a bad thing. It simply means you’re developing your sense of style or approach. However, you don’t want to regurgitate the same designs over and over. Challenging yourself to adopt new approaches and techniques quickly and often will improve your skill-set.

Rapid prototyping can help you get over a design roadblock. Create a time limit and establish a goal number of wireframes you’d like to create. Before you know it you’ll be coming up with fresh designs. Keep it simple. Sketches and rough outlines are enough here.

The goal is to have as many various ideas as possible, not to make them pixel-perfect with prototyping software. For example, you can give yourself 20 minute to come up with 10 different sketches of some aspect of a design. When using this technique, remember that the scope shouldn’t be too broad, as you want to make sure your designs are actionable.

5. Create a Repository of Inspiration (and Things to Avoid).

Save every design you come across that is an example of good, bad, interesting or otherwise fresh and notable. Even if this design is not useful in your current project, there will come a time when it will be helpful and you likely won’t remember it if you haven’t saved it, or at the very least the details will be lost. There are plenty of tools where you can save gathered snippets, print screens, notes and ideas. Think Pinterest and Milanote. These tools can help you keep these ideas nicely organized too!

6. Don’t Forget the Bigger Picture.

Being a UX designer isn’t just about creating wireframes. No matter what you are building, you should remember that the user experience doesn’t start and end within the website or app. For better or worse, users don’t typically compartmentalize their experience with brands.

For example, when delivering feedback, most users won’t say, “I had a great experience with their customer support but a terrible website experience.” As consumers, we tend to think of our experience with brands holistically. Our impressions are typically the sum of many interactions and incredibly subjective.

Those interactions happen across a number of touch-points. From Facebook ads to speaking with a customer support representative or even watching video content on a blog, users interact with brands across multiple mediums. This means you can have multiple source of insights about your users: like how they found your site, what issues they brought to customer support, etc. However, it also means that you will need to take into account a large and varied ecosystem to fully consider context.

7. Follow the Process.

If you google “UX process” you’ll find that there are many opinions about what steps it is comprised of. Take a closer look, and you’ll find that it all really boils down to the same core method. While the stages in the UX process may have different names depending on you who ask, the most important aspects are continuous user testing and developing iterations. No design is perfect on the first try, or ever really!

Keep in mind that UX design is not just wire-framing. UX design is the UX process. The UX process allows you to understand the problem, while taking into account both the business and user’s perspectives to avoid missing crucial insights. Thanks to the process you can design a quality solution rather than just a cool product that doesn’t actually solve anybody’s problems. And a quality solution leads to good user experience.

8. Get Familiar with Personas and User Journeys.

Personas and user journeys are just two examples of tools that will keep you from losing sight of your user throughout your UX process. These tools will save you time and expedite the process of finding a solution. Used properly, they are a UX professional’s best friend. Like any tool, they have their limitations so make sure you understand how, when, and with who they should be put to use. Be mindful that use of UX tools should also be “embedded in reality”–meaning they should be based on actual research, not someone’s imagination– and they should only include information that is essential and can determine design decisions.

9. Learn the Basics of Psychology.

When it comes to sketching, wire-framing, and prototyping, knowledge of psychology certainly comes in handy. Understanding how your users perceive the world, think, and feel can help you avoid annoying them and help them complete the tasks essential to meaningful use of your product.

Areas within psychology that are particularly relevant for UX include: cognitive psychology (memory, attention, information processing, learning, visual processing), psychology of emotion and motivation, behavioral psychology, and social psychology. Familiarity with these subdomains will allow you to understand how people perceive your design, how they make decisions, and ultimately how to enhance their experience.

There are a number of useful books that combine UX knowledge with different tenets of psychology like: Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug and 100 Things Every Designer Should Know by Susan Weinschenk.

10. Remember, Context is Key.

Nowadays, trying to list the plethora of devices your users could be using to access your product or service can be overwhelming. Nevertheless, try to design a cross-platform experience including the most widely used devices. Note that this may vary depending on the location of your users, so be mindful of the location(s) of your audience. One way to approach this challenge is to create a responsive design, where things like orientation, sizing, and more will adjust to the device they are viewed on.

Luckily, most devices will provide user interface guidelines so you can design to their specifications accordingly. Note that the type of device can also be important in some contexts – as some actions will only take place on certain devices or in specific settings. However, people can surprise you and use your website or app in a very different context than you might think. Do your best to design for the various device-dependent use cases.

Bonus: Always be Learning!

Design isn’t just about digital products. Increasingly so, it is connected to technological development. And technology is developing fast. This means there will constantly be new trends, approaches and possibilities emerging.

Fortunately, the UX community loves sharing their knowledge. There are plenty of blogs and books to read (like UsabilityGeek and The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman) but also plenty of local conferences, meetups and trainings, both offline and online (in fact, we just sponsored our local World Usability Day).

We encourage you to do as much as possible to broaden your knowledge, not only within UX but all the disciplines it overlaps with like psychology, graphic design, software development… and of course the industry of the company you are designing for.

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