15 lessons learnt in 15 weeks with the User Experience team

Having been recruited for Code's first ever rotational graduate scheme, I've had the good fortune to experience short but intense training across four of the company's different divisions.

My most recent foray has led me to the User Experience (UX) department, and the knowledge base I've acquired has quite possibly swollen my brain to the size of a melon (certainly feels that way, anyway)... So, to help prepare any young and aspiring future UX wannabes for their future careers, I've decided to share a brief summary of what I've learnt.

1. User testing solves most problems

The desire to satisfy the customer is central to everything we do, and user testing almost always identifies any problems and helps push us towards an effective solution.

2. User Experience is a combination of Usability and Customer Experience

Although 'usability' is important in making sure a user can achieve their goal with ease and efficiency, 'user experience' is also required in order to ensure they're pleased by their perception of how this happened too.

3. Jacob Nielsen is pretty important

Since starting in UX, every piece of learning I have undertaken refers back to Jacob Nielsen's work; if you're looking to get into UX, his books are the best place to start.

4. A picture is worth 1000 words (and possibly more)

Us human beings are highly visual creatures, capable of making connections and processing visual information almost instantly. If a user's trying to make a snap decision about whether a website offers what they want, then a picture can communicate a message far faster than text can.


The only exception to the above rule is this picture. This picture says 12 words: 'Whenever I go to a UX event it always seems to rain!'

5. Don't be afraid to challenge conventions

UX is full of processes (and process police) but if you don't think one is working, then don't be scared to scrap it. You can even try inventing a new one; if you don't then someone else will.

6. Demonstrate the value of UX to decision makers

A quick example: a few months ago, we were struggling to convince one of our clients to commit to our recommended change to their website, so we decided to invite them along to a user testing session. Once the client saw the video footage of our test participants -- making the same assertions we had been making for some time -- they were much more receptive to our ideas, and they also gained a better understanding of our role.

7. Mock-ups help to sell an idea

Trying to convey a design idea through words and sketches can prove difficult. Creating a prototype in Axure gives clients a good idea of what the end product can look like, and almost always results in a productive discussion.

8. People don't scan instead of reading -- they scan to decide whether or not to read

If you do need to use a large amount of text on a page, make sure that it's laid out in manageable sections and include headers that allow the user to quickly scan read.

9. Be careful not to base decisions in the present on factors from the past

Constraints and limitations are always changing, so never assume that an issue that existed on a previous project cannot be overcome in your new project.

10. UX is generally great, but it can also be evil...

Although everyone I've met within the UX industry has demonstrated a genuine desire to help the customer, I've also seen websites where the UX team has clearly attempted to trick the customer into buying things they don't need or want, or led them to incur unnecessary fees. These people could give the industry a bad reputation if they're allowed to carry on, so it's important that we all try and intervene when we notice bad practices.

11. You can lose users by providing too much choice

Users tend to like choice, but if you overwhelm them they won't be capable of weighing up the different options against each other.

12. We shouldn't aim to minimise the complexity of the page; we should aim to reduce the complexity in the mind

Don't become obsessed with always minimising what is on the page -- to reduce complexity, we actually sometimes need to add features that help explain a concept better.

13. People's opinions matter... Up till a point

If you concern yourself with satisfying the needs of the users, then you will almost always have a positive impact on the site you're working on. However, there will be times when a user outside of the target market will make requests that don't fit in with what you are trying to achieve. In these situations, you need to be aware you're never going to satisfy everyone.

14. It's important to work out how a website compliments a company's overall offering

Websites don't actually need to contain absolutely everything about a company. This was brought home to me at a talk from Brighton University's Marketing team. They explained that students would use the hard copy of a university's prospectus to assess its academic credentials, use the website to get a feel for what university life was like, and then finally make payment over the phone. In this way, the website served mostly a branding tool.

15. There's no such thing as too many post-it notes

Last but not least...The idea of hundreds of little bits of sticky papers everywhere might sound hectic, but it's a great way to display ideas, and, as they can easily be moved around, it also makes arranging and grouping ideas a painless process.

Inspiration from the APG’s Worlds Collide event