Conventional wisdom is an oxymoron.
One thing you will hear often in business is “do one thing and do it well.” It’s true. You may also hear something about picking a target market. That is definitely true as well. But UX actually works the opposite way.
Doing UX for everyone is easy. Selling to everyone is difficult.
If you’re a marketer you might be experiencing a serious mind fuck after reading the introduction above, because the design part goes against everything you know.
And maybe if you’re a designer too.
How can it be easier to design for everyone than designing for a smaller, well-defined, targeted group of people?!
Well, there is a catch: you have to know about psychology first.
You see, all humans have the same psychology, more or less. we are all born with the same brain (more or less), built from the same blueprint (more or less) and it works in essentially the same way.
That means that as long as your users are human, the big problems in UX are going to be the same for everything you ever make.
Nobody can choose from a menu of 50 options. Nobody will complete a 30-page form written in technical language unless they are highly motivated.
Nobody will date a person with no head.
Big problems are universal in psychology and therefore universal in UX.
Mo’ design, mo’ problems
As you design & test good solutions to these big problems, your problems will become smaller, and more specific, and there will be more of them.
Wait… the more problems you solve, the more problems you have?
Remember the article from last week about solving UX like a crossword puzzle? At the beginning of a crossword puzzle, how many “holes” do you have to fill?
One: the whole thing.
As you add answers, you break up the puzzle into areas of unanswered questions, which become smaller holes, which become individual, specific questions to solve.
More, but smaller.
Just like UX.
In UX, the more specific your problems or your target users are, the more their individual, unpredictable situations matter.
What is their country’s culture or the user’s personality? Are they experienced? Tech-savvy? Do they have an unhealthy obsession with tuxedos for dolphins? What about porpoises? Don’t they deserve nice top hats too?
Very specific. Very tricky to solve.
UX designers with less experience tend to get caught in this trap, and feel overwhelmed by all the different feedback and suggestions and needs of thousands or millions of individual users.
UX designers are humans too, and we can’t work with 50 options either.
Here’s where the mindfuck happens.
Selling something specific to everyone is very difficult. I can’t think of any single product that every human needs, other than my book.
Think about it… every business that sells something everyone needs, sells many types of it.
A supermarket sells food, which everyone needs. Good supermarkets need to sell hundreds or thousands of different products, because everybody likes different stuff.
As a UX designer (yes, you can do UX for retail environments) you’re designing a smooth way to buy anything from the supermarket, not each thing they sell.
A bar has every type of alcohol somebody might order and can make thousands of drinks. (Trust me, I made this award-winning cocktail app for Absolut in 2010).
But as a UX designer, you’re designing the experience of buying any drink, not each specific drink.
Amazon has millions of books. But as a UX designer you are designing the experience of buying any book.
You get the idea.
Not every, specific idea, but the general… yeah, yeah, ok. Sorry, I got caught in a loop there.
It is only after you design a good solution for the general problem that you need to start asking users whether their dolphin wants a jacket with tails or not.
If you try to solve each specific problem, one at a time, your design will be a mess, and you ain’t gonna sell shit to nobody.
Huge News! I am proud to announce that O’Reilly Media and I will be turning my super-popular UX Crash Course posts into a real book, to be published in 2015.
This is very exciting!
Many of you have tweeted to me, asking if the UX Crash Course lessons were available as a book or an ebook, and each time I had to disappoint by saying, “no.”
In January of this year (2014) I declared that my New Year’s Resolution was to get more people started in UX. And very soon I will be able to say:
After announcing that over 400,000 people had come to read the daily lessons, I was connected to the fine people at O’Reilly. They were excited too! After a bit of discussion, we have just signed a deal to turn the lessons into a real book and an ebook, which is scheduled for release in 2015.
Now, just in case you’re panicking, let me remove any concerns you might have:
The current lessons/posts will stay online, for free, forever. That was very important to me while we discussed the deal. O’Reilly felt the same way and completely supported that decision.
The book will also have the same short, easy, funny style as the original lessons, because let’s be honest: I’m hilarious.
And who wants to destroy that?!
So keep sharing and reading those links. I appreciate it every time.
But wait, there’s more!
Not only will the existing lessons be included, but the book will have 100 lessons in total! Crazy! And, if the English version goes well, it is very possible that it will be translated into other languages!
I have had a lot of feedback and questions since posting the original lessons, and the extra 38 lessons will be based on all those things you wanted to know.
Working with O’Reilly will also allow me to include more visual examples and illustrations for each lesson, to make them even more clear and engaging.
There are still a lot of decisions to make and writing to do, and it isn’t too late for requests, so find me on Twitter!
Start testing and stop arguing.
There are a million analogies about what it is like to solve creative problems, whether in UX or not. Michelangelo said he could see the sculpture in the stone. Maybe to you it’s more like Sudoku or composing music.
To me, UX is like solving a crossword puzzle.
Sometimes I think it is dangerous to use vague analogies to describe a process. They are easy to stretch, or misinterpret, or abuse. I don’t mean to say that the process of UX and a crossword puzzle are the same in every way, but it might help you to think about UX this way when you have to work on something that takes a long time, or when you’re frustrated with your progress.
And it might be worth knowing that I am definitely not an expert in crossword puzzles. :)
Before we even look at a crossword puzzle, there is one thing about crosswords that is true for UX as well: use a pencil, not a pen.
Nothing is a guarantee, no matter how sure you are.
When you first open a crossword puzzle, it is usually a bad idea to start writing in any word that fits in the space you have. Obviously, we need to know what the clues are.
But in UX, it is amazing how often people make a guess or just design something beautiful without any information, and then run with it!
Just because you like the answer and it fits in the boxes, doesn’t mean it’s correct.
You have to do the work.
When I start a crossword puzzle, the first thing I do is read all the clues. There are always a few that are pretty easy and the answer immediately comes to mind.
Crosswords are designed this way, but this is also true of real-life problems.
When you step back and say “Ok, what do we know?” you can usually identify a few fundamental truths about your users and your problem.
UX truths usually come in the form of restrictions.
If the site has articles, they should be long blocks of text and have headlines. You probably need a search. And a main menu. And somewhere for ads.
There is a small chance these things are wrong, but everything we know says they are right, so we fill them in.
Notice that they are not subjective things like “lower prices sell more” or “free trials make us look weak” or “a hat with fruit on it makes me look smart”.
Just the facts.
This is not the same as solving easy problems first. A LOT of companies put all their attention on “low hanging fruit” and two years later they haven’t fixed much, because all the big problems still exist.
Solving one big problem is worth as much as solving 100 little ones.
What I am saying is: start with what you know or what is easy to find out. Sometimes you know an answer immediately because of experience, not because it’s easy for everyone.
Then you can focus on the areas that will provide the most information: the ones close to what you know, and the big answers. Sometimes those are the hardest, most complex questions.
The same is true in UX. What you know, even if it isn’t much, will lead you to more answers. But if you have to start somewhere, start with the big questions, not the details.
You might be interpreting your data and wonder why the bounce rate jumped up. You have no idea why, at first, but when you notice that the amount of visitors also jumped up. The best explanation now has two symptoms to explain. When you see that all the extra traffic went to your new landing page, the reasons for the bounce rate start to become clearer and fewer.
Maybe you ran a campaign. Maybe someone famous tweeted the link. You don’t know yet, but you know where to look.
"Elementary, my dear Watson."
As you fill in more and more answers, you start to get answers from answers. You begin to know a lot about what the answers aren’t, which eliminates everything except the real answer.
Also, it’s worth noticing that those answers were impossible when you first looked at the puzzle. They came from you and your work.
UX is a process. Not just a skill set.
As you talk to users and follow trends in your data, and A/B test different designs, you might start to realize that they don’t trust your landing page, or campaign, or blog (or whatever) even though nobody has said that directly to you, you didn’t test it, and data doesn’t show “trust”.
From time to time you will find that the answer you thought was correct, wasn’t. Those incorrect answers will conflict with other answers you have researched and proven. This is one aspect of crosswords that is very similar to UX.
Often you will uncover your own assumptions by testing many of the things around that assumption. This can be a tough thing to admit to yourself, but in a crossword it is pretty objective. Either that one word is wrong, or these other 4 words are wrong.
What’s more likely? One mistake, or four?
Sometimes it takes days of thinking and sketching and research to realize that the incorrect answer is something you believed to be true, but haven’t actually tried or proven.
But those, to me, are the most rewarding moments in UX.
As with all processes, there will be moments when it feels like you don’t know enough or have enough information. But, like all processes, if you keep working, eventually something will fall out, or you’ll have an epiphany — or you’ll prove that your approach is just wrong.
Start with the big stuff. Work your way to the details. But most importantly: don’t stop.
For UX designers, stealing is good.