What are the best UX activities to carry out? It depends…

3 minutes read

Every time I see someone proudly sporting a t-shirt with a glib slogan on it, I wince a little bit. I’m sure you know the type of t-shirt, one that says something like, “I might be wrong, but it’s highly unlikely” or “In my defence, I was left unsupervised”. Oh dear.

T-shirts with slogans might be ok for children, they are not so ok for the rest of us. However, I must confess that there have been many times as a UX professional when it would have been useful to have something like the above t-shirt. Rather than replying, “It depends…” for the umpteen time that day, I could have simply pointed at the slogan adorning my chest.

This is because the answer to many a UX related questions really is, “It depends…” (although it’s the answer to most, not every question as the above t-shirt claims). What is the best design pattern to use? Erm, it depends. How many users should we speak to? It depends. What are the most critical elements of a design? Yep, you’ve guessed it, it depends.

You see UX related questions invariably involve lots of complex variables. Who are our users? What are their goals? What constraints do we have? What outcomes are we trying to drive? What do we already know? What do we need to learn? Whilst the answer to a question might have previously been X, change one or more of those variables and the answer might now be Y. For example, an inexperienced user is likely to behave differently from an experienced user. A design for a mobile device will have different constraints than one for a desktop device. A design that needs to factor in the input from lots of stakeholders might require a different approach than one with very few stakeholders.

One question for which “It depends…” most certainly applies is: What are the best UX activities to carry out? Time and time again I see teams try to apply the same rigid approach, regardless of the different variables at play. Define the problem; create personas; define scenarios; define the user journeys; create wireframes; create a prototype; carry out usability testing.

The sort of rigid UX design approach some teams will follow regardless of the project

Not every project will require primary research, but some certainly will. Not every project will benefit from personas, but some certainly will. Not every project will require a high-fidelity prototype, but some certainly will. Not every project will require usability testing, but some certainly will.

As you gain experience as a UX professional you soon realise that there is no one size fits all UX design approach. There is no magic recipe of UX activities that will always deliver outstanding results, regardless of the ingredients.

Sticking with the food theme, when considering which UX activities to carry out you should pick from a menu of options, rather than aiming for an all you can eat buffet. Rather than trying to carry out every UX activities they can think of, an experienced UXer will consider the various variables at play and choose what he or she thinks is the best approach given the desired outcomes.

The Design Council’s double diamond design process provides a good way approach to a project because whilst it outlines the stages to consider (discover, define, develop and deliver), along with design principles to follow (such as being people centred), it doesn’t dictate that all stages must be carried out, or what should happen at each stage. Some projects will require discovery activities, but some will not. Some projects will already be very tightly defined, some will not.

Design Council double diamond design process
The Design Council Double Diamond design process

If choosing the best UX design approach and UX activities to carry out depends on lots of different variables, how do you explore those variables? You start with questions, lots of questions. Questions like:

  • What is the background to the project?
  • What would make for a successful project?
  • What are the constraints?
  • Who is involved in the project?
  • What could prevent a successful project?
  • Who are / will be the users?
  • What is the user problem(s) to be solved?
  • What existing resources and insights exist?
  • What are the key assumptions and questions?
  • How important is the project?

When I’m planning a project, I will fill out a simple canvas, like the one below to capture key information about the project. This will help me and the project team to determine the sort of UX design approach to take and therefore the best UX activities to carry out.

Using a canvas to capture key information about a project can help determine the best UX activities to carry out

Download UX project canvas (PDF)

Coming back to the original question of how to determine the best UX activities to carry out, it really does depend. It depends on lots of different variables at play and the better these are understood, the better informed the UX approach and UX activities to carry out can be.

See also

Image credits

  • It depends Classic T-Shirt Designed and sold by EsCarola on Redbubble

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