3 Positive Steps That Address Tomorrow’s Design Challenges

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As product people, we pursue mastery in an evasive world that bobs and weaves all around us. As markets shift and our users react, we’re required to learn and adapt and to perceive our circumstances in different ways. Just as our clients and their customers do. And as we question whether yesterday’s answers will solve tomorrow’s problems, we realize the need to seek new learning.

For nearly a decade, Agile and Lean UX delivered many of those answers – and still do. There’s no organization out there today that will admit to not being agile. They may not actually be applying Agile principles, or doing it well, but they’ll never admit it. What they will admit, though, is that every answer generates at least two new questions. It’s how we learn, right? How we expand the domain of knowledge exponentially. How we pursue mastery.

  1. Modernizing Agile

It’s been almost 10 years since Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden authored Lean UX. As an industry, we learned from them that getting feedback as soon as possible allowed us to make quicker decisions. “Fail quickly” was the mantra of many, as it underscored the unavoidable (and invaluable) truth that we’re not always going to be right. And the sooner we realized where we went wrong, the sooner we could pivot, toss out the old design, and start from scratch – this time armed with a sprint’s-worth of knowledge that let us work rapidly and efficiently, and do both well at the same time.

There’s talk these days of a modern Agile. In a recent conversation with ITX, Jeff characterized it as “cross-functional, collaborative, customer-centric, and evidence-driven.” All of which, he believes, was part of Agile’s original intent. As we learn, it takes time for us to navigate the framework to truly assimilate a concept’s underlying benefits. Effective product design requires creativity. But it’s not creativity in a random, abstract sense. This brand of creativity flourishes within a well-honed process, one that flexes as scenarios change. Modern Agile also infuses a sense of team autonomy that empowers product people to experiment and learn, and to do so in concert with the technical and support disciplines that successful product design requires. 

  1. Envisioning Solutions Through Scenarios

The ability to envision the right solution for the right audience is a highly advanced skill with which effective UX designers have been blessed. It is best revealed by deep study of the problem to be solved, the circumstance of a specific situation, and a rich appreciation for whom the problem is being solved.

In a Product Momentum Podcast conversation, Kim Goodwin shared that crafting personas helps us get to a user-centric solution, but that personas present only a shadow of the complete user story. Scenarios, when combined with well-defined personas, she added, help designers and their teams explore visual design options and define products based on insights drawn from using “the right user research.”

Our customers know precisely the problems they need to solve. The task of designers and their teams is to meet users there, in the problem space, before applying their gift of vision to formulate solutions. Like modern Agile, the use of scenarios is inclusive. It’s process-agnostic, in that scenarios work equally well whether your creative canvas is Agile, Waterfall, or somewhere in between.

  1. Engaging a Human-Centered Approach

As the world around us evolves and grows more diverse, our teams, tools, and technologies must keep pace. We need to focus on the end users of our designs; but even more than that, we need to think more deeply about them. Just as we need to apply context (i.e., scenarios) to our data-driven personas, we must think beyond customers as merely users of our tools. They are humans.

Miguel Cardona, a Product Momentum Podcast guest, asks us to consider the following: What might a normal human expect in this situation? What experience would make them feel great, maybe even giggle with glee? What would help them be even more effective or feel acknowledged and cared for in whatever the situation is. As a designer, it can really be distilled down to those simple questions, the micro-decisions we make every day.

When considered through that eye-opening lens, designers may want to think even more deeply about their role in terms of ethics in design, and with it, industry expectations to focus on responsibility at the micro-decisions level. It’s the little things, right, that often bring the greatest impact.

Imagine the impact of focusing our efforts on human-centered design principles – not (necessarily) those that deliver desired outcomes for clients and employers. Imagine if we aligned our work in a way that fulfilled such fundamental human needs as security, inclusivity, and accessibility. This mindset, of course, requires a higher level of thinking.

What might a normal human expect in this situation? What experience would make them feel great, maybe even giggle with glee? As a designer, it can really be distilled down to those simple questions, the micro-decisions we make every day.

In Conclusion – Ours Is a Noble Calling

But when product people share a passion for solving complex problems and leveraging technology to move, touch, and inspire our world, we take giant leaps forward to improve the lives of others. In today’s high-tech, digital age, can there be a more noble calling?

Our pursuit of mastery may never end. But when we come together to learn from industry experts and each other, we continue the chase armed with many of today’s answers, drawing ever closer to achieving our goal.

Want to join the chase? Learn from world-renowned industry experts and each other. Register now for ITX UX 2019: Beyond the Pixels design conference, Oct. 3-5 in Rochester, NY and Nov. 6-8 in Portland, OR.