Realm of The Possible


Reflection and discussion about Design Practice, Arts, Teaching.


I started writting blog posts about Sharing Design Practice during Outreachy Program, I worked then as a Designer for Mozilla Foundation. I wish here to continue sharing my reflection.

Post #04 – Open Design

Post #03 – Designing for Users

Post #02 – Teamwork · About Collaboration

Post #01 – Engagement

Post #03 – Designing for Users


Why should designers apply User Centered Design (UCD) or User eXperience Design (UX) methodologies?

We daily use products and services. We can use them at home: a door, a lock, a light, a computer, a printer, a coffee machine, household appliances. Or we can meet them outside: the public transport, a lift, a cashmachine, etc. Not forgetting an object which has become nearly omnipresent for many of us: the mobile phone.
We can live a nice or a bad experience with each of them.

We use and we discover more and more interactive terminals and machines: screens and objects which are links between us and a service we would like to get or a goal we would like to achieve.
More and more services are accessible online: phone, electricity, health insurance customer accounts, and many administrative procedures.
We reach them through different devices: desktop, tablet, mobile phone. With each of those devices our gestures, our position, our interaction with them are different.
Through interactive terminals we can get information about transport traffic, public transport maps and timetables, we can get tickets, we can read information in a museum, etc.

We live new types of relationship and interaction which didn't exist a few years ago with these new types of objects.
Product and graphic designers work on several new types of devices, thinking about the appearence, the content, and now about interactions. A new position has been created : Interaction Designer.
Screen are nowadays touch-sensitive.
Different actions are commanded moving fingers from left to right or right lo left, up and down, using 3 or 4 fingers, we can make a rotation with our fingers, pinch the screen, press lengthily on the screen, leaf through digital pages. They seem to be ordinary gestures today.
More and more computers are designed so that we can use the screen as touch-sensitive screen.
Write or draw with a stylus on the screen and it will be saved in the device: in 2014 during a fair I saw a demonstration with a touch-sensitive screen [1] with which you can “digitize your sketches, drawings and notes” that are transferred in a vectorial format to a computer or tablet and share it (of course, we live in social networks world!).
We can order with our voice, watch augmented reality through glasses, and cars without drivers became reality.

In Minority Report movie in 2002, John Anderton is displaying data, touching immaterial transparent floating screens. [2]
The gesture-based interface was designed for the film by MIT's team led by John Underkoffler.
Have a look at John Underkoffler's Ted Talk. [3]
It seemed unbelievable at that time, but it now became real! A few years ago I saw a French news broadcast using touch-sensitive screen to introduce reports.

— Designers

Designers were creating for groups of users or consumers. They are now designing for a specific type of users, to get closer to the real use of the product or service.
Users' feelings and needs are more and more taken in consideration:  how do they feel throughout the day and how they feel when using products and services.
Designers are asked to create enjoyable and memorable experiences with products and services. They are designing what is called User eXperience Design or User Centered Design.

Designers care about the places and the moments when users interact with the objects or devices: how and how long is your user available? how is her/his concentration condition? what is the stress level in which s/he is when using your service? is the product shared and used with the family members, colleagues or friends? does the user reach the service at home, at the office or outside?
Stressfull moments can be: collecting your tickets before flying or taking your train, calling for a lift when you are loaded down with baggage, finalising your online shopping after several steps and for which you may have been asked to create an account (add then more steps).
If the user encounters difficulties when using the service, s/he can not be blamed. One may not know functionnalities s/he has never seen or used before. But it reveals that your product may have failed in clearly explain how to use it.
An object should clearly show how we can use it, this quality is called “affordance”.

* A few words about Affordance *

Here is the defintion from Merriam-Webster:

(Psychology ) The qualities or properties of an object that define its possible uses or make clear how it can or should be used.
“We sit or stand on a chair because those affordances are fairly obvious.” — Scott Lafee, San Diego Union-Tribune, 15 Aug. 1993
“An affordance is a resource or support that the environment offers an animal; the animal in turn must possess the capabilities to perceive it and to use it.” — Eleanor J. Gibson et al., in The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences, 1999

Read more about “affordance”:
“Affordances”, by Mads Soegaard:
“The concept of an affordance was coined by the perceptual psychologist James J. Gibson in his seminal book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. The concept was introduced to the HCI community by Donald Norman in his book The Psychology of Everyday Things from 1988. There has however been ambiguity in Norman's use of the concept, and the concept thus requires a more elaborate explanation.”
“The Design of Everyday Things”, Don Norman, Revised and expanded ed., 2013. Basic Books. p. 11. ISBN 978-0465050659.
“An affordance is a relationship between the properties of an object and the capabilities of the agent that determine just how the object could possibly be used.”

— Users

Users are sometimes asked to take time learning how to use the product or service. They are mostly benevolent: they like or want to discover the functionnalities. They use your product, it means that they need to reach a goal.
Which steps may the users encounter?
Where do I find information I am looking for? How many steps to reach it? Do I have to create an account? Do I have to create an email account if I haven't got one yet, because it will become my login and will allow the Service Team to contact me? Is it easy to display and/or print a document? How do I ask questions or ask for some help?

Designers should carefully think about this part. Users may give up before reaching their goal or be irritated and get an unpleasant experience with the product or service.
Onboarding may be made up of a demo video or pop-up windows following the steps during the first use. Designers should guide users so they can understand and use the product easily and comfortably.
They should conscientiously examine the context of use, put themselves in users' place, to correctly target the needs. They should question the client or sponsor during meetings, taking risk to criticize the existing product, to improve it.

As in Arts, we create for audience, in Design we create for users. So before creating a project, ask yourself who your users are, what they would need. If projects are ordered by sponsors, don't forget we are designing for users.

— Empathy

Designers' empathy is essential to understand users' needs and find the right solutions: what are their needs, their expectations, their technical skills, when do they use your product or service, why and how? 
This way designers would create products that are easy to use. They would be able to make users reach comfortably their goals. They are the link, the facilitator between users and products or the goal they want to reach.
A user will remember a nice experience, but s/he will remember more a bad experience!
The final user will judge your product and will spread the word (good or bad). There is an adage saying “Happy user = Happy client”.

To conclude, User Centered Design or User eXperience Design is about changing our point of view.
Those methodologies focus on process, during the research part. You are not designing yet.
It is an opportunity to question and renew the way you work, being empathic and taking in consideration the users, to create products or services adapted to them.