Finding the Sweet Spot

Written by Megan Venter

I was lucky enough to attend a 3 day UX conference in Cape Town filled with inspiration, clarification, a lot of information and most of all important and relevant topics surrounding UX as told by many great local and international designers.

Two topics that were emphasised throughout the 3 day conference were solving the right problem for the right solution and how design can influence companies.

What is UX/UI design?

That was literally what the first speaker’s slide was about, and I thought to myself “we are at a UX conference, surely we know what it is?”.

UX and UI design are still relatively new fields in our world, and especially in South Africa. The importance of it is not fully understood by our society. One example was an interaction I had in Cape Town where a guy asked me: “So what do you do?”, and I said “I am a designer”, to which he asked, “what type of designer?”. There it is, one of the most difficult questions to answer about my career. I tried explaining to this person what it is I do, I design experiences and make things easier for users, I do research to find out what will work best for people like you, I design interfaces so that you feel comfortable to use it, and if you don’t, I will make it as easy as possible for you to use so that you can enjoy your experience, it is literally all about you as a user. Well, this person ended up making their own conclusion and labeled me as a Marketer.

So what is UX? It is not about making things pretty! The ISO definition of User Experiences describes it as “A person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service. Thus, the user experience includes all effects the use of an interface has on the user– before, during and after use.” Recently I watched video where they said UX is about making things easier which is very broad but sums it up pretty well, for me at least! Making things easier isn’t always the easiest job. There is a lot of ideation, thinking, planning, drawing, and trial and error to get to the AHA! moment.

I also recently had a family member ask me what I think UI is, and although I design UI’s every day at work, it was still difficult for me to explain. But Willy Lai who was one of the presenters at UXSA said it is connecting a human and information through technology.

Good design means good business

According to the Design Management Index, companies who have followed a design-led approach have grown 228% over the past ten years outperforming S&P 500* companies. Good design means good business. Good design is what will stand out and differentiate one product from another product. It is not about making things pretty, it is about what it’s supposed to do, how well it performs and if delivers the specific function for the end user. When users visits a site or uses an app, and they can’t find what they want, they will find an alternative site or app that will give them what they want. In this intensely competitive world that we live in, having a good and well thought-out design becomes a strategic advantage for companies.

Snapchat is a good example of how design can influence a product. Snapchat recently made design and content changes to their already, but let’s not forget intentional, bad UX and UI which costed them billions of dollars. Eventually users felt that the things they enjoyed most on the app were taken away from them. Snapchat users felt that they were spammed by celebrity news and irrelevant stories. Kylie Kardashian who was probably one of Snapchat’s biggest advocates tweeted: “sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad”, which resulted in Snapchat losing $1.3 billion. So naturally users turned to a different platform, Instagram, which gave them what they wanted and more without all the fluff.

A diagram which Lai presented at the conference shows the ‘Sweet spot’. The Sweet Spot is considering the users, the business, and the technological capabilities in order to find a balance so that designers can leverage their designs in order to create the sweet spot. It might sometimes be very difficult for companies to find the sweet spot, but if they do they will reap the benefits of a project or product for all parties involved.

Import questions to consider are: What is this product/feature doing, does it support the user’s needs and technology capabilities?

Diagram shown by Willy Lai at UXSA 2018

The right solution for the right problem

A big problem designers often face in design is finding the right solution to the right problem. Lai referred to a ‘prescribed solution’ which is often used by designers instead as an alternative to dig deeper into the problem. Sure, it might work for now, but it does not solve the core issue of the problem. Some designers take a shallow learning approach towards problems which just solves problems on the surface, instead of a deep learning approach to fully understand the problem and tackle it from a fundamental level.

It is a designer’s responsibility to take a deeper approach to a problem than giving a prescribed solution. Lai created a table which helps with the thinking and decision making during a design process. If someone suggest a change such as “we need to add more buttons to the screen so that users have more option and know what to do”, might solve the right problem with the wrong solution which might solve the problem on the surface but does not tackle the core problem of what actually has to be done to solve it.

Finding the right solution for the right problem (presented by Willy Lai at UXSA 2018)

It is essential that designers understand that they are solving the business’s problem as much as they are solving user problems.

“If you can influence a user’s thoughts, behaviours and feelings, that’s a big value add for any business.” — Willy Lai

*S&P is The Standard & Poor’s 500, an American market index based on the market capitalisations of the largest 500 companies in the US.

To read more about Snapchat’s intentional bad UX click here.

About the author

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Phlippie Bosman

Phlippie Bosman

Retro Rabbit's resident iOS hipster with a passion for clean and scalable coding. For fun, I like to taste fine whisky, win pub quizzes, and make noisy garage punk with my friends. Read more from Phlippie Bosman...