UX and the 80/20 Rule


As I’ve written about many times, I’m a great fan of the 80/20 rule in design and UX, also known as the Pareto Principle, and Jennifer Aldrich has written a great article at the InVision blog getting into a specific approach for applying the 80/20 rule within the context of UX.

Ms. Aldrich writes about a multi-step process that has remarkably low overhead for getting at the core of the user experience issues; in this case, the 80/20 rule uses 20% of the effort to get at 80% of the problem. Genius!

As Ms. Aldrich states:

“This method is for those who don’t have a background in research or statistics, or for experienced professionals who just need some quick and dirty data. It’s a powerful, fast, and cheap way to quickly evaluate how you can pack the most UX punch when you’re planning improvements to your product or service.”

Rather than paraphrasing Ms. Aldrich’s informative and well-researched article I’ll simply point the way and say that if you’re interested in understanding the 80/20 rule in the context of UX this is a good read and well worth your time.

UX simplicity is an iterative process



When it comes to design, reducing something to its most basic parts is not just a design or aesthetic discipline, but it’s also the discipline of looking at what’s needed rather than trying to imbue the design with what you want.

The best designers know this, maybe intuitively, because at the core of the work they’re doing is the hope that a design, this thing birthed from one’s intellect, takes on a physical life of its own, is used and maybe, if you’re super lucky, brings joy to the user.

So, simplicity, like complexity is all about which direction you take the iterations in. Do you want something with lots features, buttons, screens, etc.? Or, do you want something with a few critical functions that are intuitive, straight-forward and easy to use?

This is the fundamental dilemma of design: Provide many features, which, historically, has implied a greater value, or to minimize, giving only the most important features and perfecting them to ensure the best possible experience.

With each design iteration there’s change, growth and refinement; Simplicity leaves room for things to evolve, organically — I think that perfection is a phantom, but iterations will be what gets you closest to a more perfect design.

The problem with “intuitive” design



Over the years I’ve talked with many people about creating intuitive designs, making something user friendly, usable, even, in the contexts of websites, apps and products. However, the idea of ‘intuitive’ presupposes that one person is able to nail, completely, what is or is not intuitive without any user perspective. Sure, we can can make some basic deductions about a user experience or user expectations based on what we think we know about a user, but really the smallest bit of scrutiny given to the idea of making something intuitive, makes the entire idea fall apart.

Intuition is based on past experience, conscious or unconscious, cumulatively, and determines some level of expectations.

My ability to pick up an iPad, and “intuitively” complete a task will make much more sense to me than if Benjamin Franklin picked up an iPad and tried to complete the same task. I understand user interfaces. I’ve been steeped in a world of human-computer interaction, it’s a modality for the completion of tasks that I understand. Similarly, old Ben Franklin would be much more adept at lighting, servicing and maintaining a whale-oil lamp than I ever could be. My intuitive iPad is not his intuitive whale-oil lamp. Our experiences and our particular epochs are radically different, so, too, what is intuitive is different.

In order to create something that’s intuitive to your users, you have to meet your users where they’re at. How are they using the design? Where are they using the design? When are they using the design? What tasks are they trying to complete? How do they feel about past iterations of yours or a comparable design for completing the same tasks.

The problem with intuitive design is that it’s not really about intuition at all, but about researching your users, their goals, their biases and generally who they are to determine what the best design solution is for them.

Asking for an intuitive design is a cop out.

Do the work and create the design your audience needs.

You need these two things for UX success


User experience, like any change, can take a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of persistence. Even in those instances when preparation and opportunity intersect change isn’t easy.  I’m talking about UX, but I could be talking about organizational change of any kind. Sometimes, I feel like this is a perspective that comes with age, something that my younger self, wouldn’t have wanted to hear, but my more seasoned self knows as a fact and embraces accordingly.

In order to be successful with UX, you need to put the energy in and you need to be persistent.

The energy comes in many forms. It’s your passion, it’s your vision, it’s your need to share the idea of UX and push the change forward against bureaucracy and those who aren’t willing to accept any change, and those who feel like you’re presenting hurdles, or unnecessary steps when the old way of doing things will do… But you know that UX isn’t just necessary, it’s important to an organization’s ability to change and grow, and perhaps, most importantly, it’s the right thing for your users.

This is where the second part comes in, because without this one, all of the energy in the world doesn’t matter.


Energy without persistent direction will be put into something else when you want to give up, when you get sick of putting the energy in and getting no positive feedback, no return on time and years of your life invested in the change.

Energy and persistence are the 1-2 punch that no change, no matter how great, can resist. Admittedly, this may seem like an over-simplification as change comes in many shapes and sizes, but at the core, if you can persist and direct your energy accordingly you will make great strides as an agent of change.

Change takes time; Pace yourself, treat yourself well and don’t forget the goal. Remember that change is a marathon not a sprint, and today’s setbacks could be tomorrow’s opportunities to stop, reflect and make course corrections. I wish I had somebody to give me this advice as I embarked on changing organizations, but hopefully I can help somebody in a way that would have helped me by writing down these lines.

When you combine energy and persistence UX change isn’t just possible, it’s inevitable.


Meet me there… UX design and the user environment


User experience design requires an empathic, user-centered design perspective.

You have to meet people where they’re at.

Once you’ve completed your user interviews, and finished your personas, use-cases and journey maps, you have to really get inside the mind of the user.

One of the most difficult tasks of the UX designer is trying to not just get in the mind, but also the physical space of where the user experience is happening. Is it a loud manufacturing facility, is it a cramped commuter train, or is it a quiet health facility?

Knowing where the user experience is happening, getting a sense of that environment, even visiting, if at all possible, is the best way to ensure that the user experience is being designed, not just for the right kinds of users, but also for the right kinds of environments. We do it for different mobile devices, screen resolutions and browsers; why wouldn’t want to also design for the physical space?

The short answer is that we would.

Being an empathic and user-centered UX designer means that you have to capture as much as you can about the user, how and where, they interact with your design — The physical environment shouldn’t get any less consideration than any of the other design criteria.

UX isn’t just for designers

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To non-designers user experience can a very abstract concept. We’re lucky to have this empathic perspective of walking a mile in somebody else’s use cases, but mostly, folks don’t get it. It’s kind of like trying to explain to your parents what you do as a user experience professional… ‘what the hell is that?’ They might say back to you… or they might just nod in feigned acknowledgement… Either way, just like having empathy for users, we need to have empathy for those folks who don’t understand what UX is all about.

It’s kind of exciting, really, because it’s our job to teach them about UX.

Where teaching UX is concerned, I’ve found that nothing works quite as well as a ‘show don’t tell’ approach. Teaching UX is even better if you can get lay-people involved in some kinds of interactive exercises around UX.

I’m reluctant to say something is easy, but teaching the value of UX is, well… kind of easy. In nearly every instance where I’ve had to introduce UX folks have been pretty quick to get what UX means and how it could benefit users and an organization alike. After all, who hasn’t had to work with crummy software, navigate a horrible website or complete a task through an ill-conceived smartphone app? These experiences are ubiquitous and universal in a world driven by human-computer interactions.

Two simple, high level, ways to teach a lay-person UX might be to:

  1. Make a series of paper prototype user interfaces for paying a bill or ordering a book online — a straightforward interaction that should have only a few clicks;
  2. Walk through a simple purchase on Amazon or eBay, narrating the steps and what’s happening, from a UX perspective, as you go.

Each of these simple, low-tech, steps, highlights in context, what the user experience is and what its benefits could be. Exercises like these bridge the gap of abstraction, making something conceptual into something practical. When you make a connection for a business person or some other non-designer, it’s magical; these Aha! Moments make the teaching of UX very satisfying and a lot of fun.

While UX is quickly achieving buzzword status, it’s a real and necessary discipline whose time has come. UX, after its vogue period, will stop being “cool” and will just be… a mature operational practice taken for granted like automobile safety features or tamper-proof packaging, so it’s our job to be teachers and stewards of UX, not just how it can benefit our organizations, but how it can benefit the world. We may get to a time where user interfaces cease to exist, but UX will be at the heart of that, too.