Why We Undervalue UX Design

Written by Max
, tagged as #ux

Sometimes we don't understand a real value of a solution. We can use a simple application with an interface that consists of one input field and a button. When we press the button, we receive the result. Simple, right? But have you ever thought about what is actually happening with an application while you are waiting for the result?

Present UI/UX design solutions much simpler, subtler, non-disturbing, sometimes hidden. But they can be difficult in development.

It's easy to create a difficult interface but hard to create a simple solution that solves problems without distractions. And at the same time oriented on its target audience.

Nowadays, the main task of UI/UX designers is to simplify mental models for people. Make interfaces more friendly and responsive. Thus, the main focus has changed from difficult design elements that look like real objects to more subtle solutions. Where people just work on their tasks and don't bother with design elements and overwhelming graphics.

What is under the hood of modern UI/UX Design?

I would say that UX Design became more dominant than UI Design. It's more important for businesses to concentrate on the experience of their users. And only then on visual solutions. Especially in the era of startups, digital products are in a rush to their launch date.

Of course, visual solutions are important as well. But now, it's a secondary priority.

Nowadays, it makes sense to focus on user research, mental models, simplicity, tests.

We had left behind this era when developers created interface solutions. So, they were looking like overwhelming logical machines with different warnings, notifications, error dialogs.

We need developers to work on inner logic, designing databases, and writing and optimizing code according to the project's goals. However, they shouldn't project their work on the user interface. In other words, they don't need to touch user interface design solutions unless they have specific experience in this area. Otherwise, it can be unproductive.

More and more, we start using voice controls and sensor displays. It means that we cut the interface whenever it's possible. Thus, when you use your voice to control the system, you don't need to interact with traditional input devices or touch something. You just use your natural tool for making commands.

This is a good example of a mental model where we don't need developers to interact with the system and users. But, they work hard on the back end of this type of system to recognize the voice and sequences of words to form appropriate commands.

With sensor displays, we have cut input devices partly. We no longer need a keyboard and mouse to check email, write notes, and even play games.

All we need to do is use our fingers to tap on the screen to fire up machine commands to get the results we want from our devices. Also, we use natural gestures that became clear from the fundamental life experiences.

This and other types of design solutions become more simple from the first side. But it doesn't mean that it's easy to design them. Thus, often the design of mobile applications costs more than design for the web interface.

But most people don't understand why. They see visual results as static pictures or screenshots and try to compare them with other samples, but you probably understand that you can't compare those just like two pictures side by side. There is much more into it.

For instance, we have a nice and beautiful interface in both web app and mobile app. But, mobile screens are smaller than desktop screens, and usually, it's a different orientation (vertical vs. horizontal).

How is the design different from each other? Well, you might already know the answer. Besides the visual look and stylish tricks, there is also logic in it. Design is better understood as a set of rules on how the interface will behave on different platforms and screens of different sizes. 

An experienced designer immerses himself in the project and market to understand many things, starting from user experience, mental models, information architecture, niche of the app, potential customers (users of the app), etc. 

Design work is often judged by a static picture of the final result, but usually, it requires appropriate expertise to evaluate the complexity of the solution.

Evaluation of design solutions

We usually see only the tip of the iceberg, but we don't see how much effort was invested in an interface design. That's the most common issue in the evaluation of UX Design.

This is not only about a nice look and better representation than similar apps on the market. It's about the right solution to the problem that meeting business goals and user needs.

Also, it's not about the designer's time spent on the work to achieve the result you wanted. Sometimes great design solutions can be created in a matter of a couple of hours. But it doesn't mean that this work costs 2 hours multiplied by the designer's rate.

Usually, it's not just these 2 hours that he worked specifically on your project. It's more about the baggage of knowledge and experience that he/she gained over the years of studying and practicing in the design industry.

There is a huge chance that if you work with an experienced designer, he studied and experienced a lot before even meeting you. There is a high probability that the designer invested thousands of hours in the design industry. He might have his own library of solutions and claimed or developed necessary tools for efficient and productive work.

Sometimes designers can create a great solution in 2 hours or even in 5-10 minutes, but that can result from a lot of thinking beforehand.

I want to share with you one old story that happened with Henry Ford.

Ford's electrical engineers couldn't solve a problem they were having with their gigantic generator. Ford called Steinmetz to the plant. Upon arriving, Steinmetz rejected all assistance and asked only for a notebook, pencil, and cot. According to Scott, Steinmetz listened to the generator and scribbled computations on the notepad for two straight days and nights. On the second night, he asked for a ladder, climbed up the generator, and made a chalk mark on its side. Then he told Ford's skeptical engineers to remove a plate at the mark and replace sixteen windings from the field coil. They did, and the generator performed to perfection.

Henry Ford was thrilled until he got an invoice from General Electric in the amount of $10,000. Ford acknowledged Steinmetz's success but balked at the figure. He asked for an itemized bill.

Steinmetz Scott wrote, responded personally to Ford's request with the following: making chalk mark on generator - $1, knowing where to make mark - $9,999, Ford paid the bill.

Since it's hard to evaluate design solutions we work on now, I suggest focusing on their value. Why do you need this application or website? What problem do you want to solve? Do you want to simplify your business solution? Do you want to increase profit from your project? Do you just want to move your physical business to the internet?

Value is not always directly monetary:

How can designers identify your value to set the right price? 

The answer is that designers should not determine the value; the project owner does.

However, a designer can uncover the value after discussing the project and asking the right questions. Most of the time, you need a problem solver, not a designer. And to fix your problem or a problem on the market requires more thinking, proper strategizing, and planning. This is not about the type of software that will be used or the number of hours a contractor puts it.

Yeah, it's hard to do the math that is based on the value that will be created in the future, but, at the same time, we have to understand the value to be efficient in our work.