There's not a lot to argue about how much developers normally care about product design and usability. Design and user experience used to be seen as the final —yet unnecessary— touch on software products. Nowadays, software has been democratized and everybody gives credit to the importance of well crafted products. It means you care. And many users do notice! Let’s start by stating that Code is art. Then, UI/UX should have the same consideration and respect, right?
Software development is a very recent activity, and as such, there is little we know about doing things the right way: there are no silver bullets, and let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t actually know what are we doing when we start a new product from the ground up. There is just not enough stuff written about it. And thus, we unite, we share, we express our opinions —or convictions—, and we argue too. Because, plainly, no one has the absolute truth about it all. The ‘Last Final Ultimate Software Guide’ is yet to be written. All of this is growing dramatically fast, moving on quicksands: you either move or you die. And we all agree, we do victimize about it… For a good reason though.
At ticketea, we thought (that means, “our design team considered interesting”) it would be nice to attend one of the most important UX conferences in Spain: UX Spain. We needed a great deal of reality. How do these guys do?
But… what is actually a UX Designer?
Interesting question. What do we —developers— think a UX designer is? Probably —let us know anyway— we all agree that is a graphic designer in charge of a very specific task on the UI: interaction. We learned that a graphic designer almost has nothing to do with a visual designer. Web and app UI designers are visual designers. So we were wrong right from the very beginning.
So what’s the difference? What’s the big deal here? It’s a rather difficult task for us to deliberate whether this should be —or not— an extension of proper
graphic visual design. That is, the very same person not just taking care of how pretty our product is, but if it makes sense too. That it is coherent. UI and interaction are pretty much the same thing, right? That commitment means that, to us —developers—, both usually represent the same problem: a bunch of listeners, buttons, outlets, and stuff performed on the main thread. To our eyes, UI and interacting conform the same beast. Mmmm… so it is quite the same beast…, but which one is to tame? Is it that difficult or complex? Does the UX role need a differentiation? Yes, it makes a lot of sense to us. Now. That was one good and big answer we sought in the conference, as mere geeks (as guys that mostly cannot distinguish between red and orange). We don’t usually know how to make really beautiful products. Products that actually talk to the user? [Awkward laugh here] We usually hold the opinion that users should learn how to use our apps. Software must be useful in the first place. We add features, controls, options, etc. After some iterations, we’ve already lost the focus about what it actually does. About the problem it solves.
Designers think the other way around. Obviously, nobody likes to feel dumb or clumsy when using our websites or apps. We craft them around our architecture. We do not take into account how people’s minds work, but instead, how computers do.
Maybe we have no proper answer for this (we are sorry), but definitely, this is a critical part we’ve been missing so far. UX are not decorators, but actual architects, despite most of them are self called “just designers”. “Product designers“ could be a much proper name for this (personal opinion), since it is not about placing a button or a label so people can see it. It is not about Design yelling “look at this“, or “look at me”. It is about design asking you “what do you need?“. UX is not about “how it looks like”, but “how it works”. Think about software analysts and computer programmers. Sometimes both conform the same person, but those are two distinct jobs.
The conference. Lessons learned.
First of all, let’s put this into some context. ticketea’s product team is made up of 16 people. 4 of them conform our excellent (excuse me, they are going to read this) design team. The rest of the team is composed by all sorts of nerds, from which, 6 accepted the invitation and went alongside the design team to a UX conference. That must mean something, we thought. So did many people we met there.
We are not about to roll up and talk about every keynote. We just want to speak out about our general impressions. So, any lessons learned? Sure.
UX Spain was about “Design and User Experience”. Surprisingly enough for us, many of the speeches talked about the definition of what UX designers actually are, as well as their professional and social responsibilities. We thought software engineering was a young and sometimes undefined profession. Wait and see “ux designers” talking about 70 different names they use to name what they do every day at work. That could be a bit confusing. Naming it’s sure important, but what about knowing what do they do on a daily basis? What are the problems they are confronted with? And more importantly, what do they think about developers? It is known that
graphic visual designers may be the cause of many of our headaches. We think they don’t understand us. And they think we are the source of many ‘NO’s they have to deal with, when trying to craft great products. What if we got everything wrong from the beginning? [SPOILER: we did]
Maybe is not just about the UI.
How would you call a designer that really understands implementation problems, and solves them alongside the development team? How would it be if we —programmers— tried to make our best efforts to make the impossible possible, because we know our product designer has deeply thought about what we need? This person has already taken us into account and is open to criticism too. UX designers want to lead products, not technology.
Many talks stated that we should deliver new user experiences, innovative solutions, not just the ones we have already taken from granted. Virtual Reality, bots, storytelling… UX comes in many forms too, not just software. Anytime you use something that encourages you to perform a specific action, that’s not coincidence. That’s product design telling you how to use it. It’s not yelling “I can do this!”, but instead: “look what you can achieve using me!”. For the time being, it could be a —somehow— vague definition. UX designers could be anywhere: architecture, industrial design, software… You name it.
Getting the whole picture.
We’d love to hear from you! Those are our own lessons learned, but we are interested in yours as well. It’d be really interesting to collect what people think about this, specially developers and designers, of course. Do you agree with us? Did you draw any other conclusions? (or had any).
Let us know in the comments section below!