3 Important Takeaways from The Elements Of User Experience

The Elements of User Experience by UX Designer Jesse James Garrett is the go-to introduction to user-centered web design.  Garrett's 5 Planes of User Experience are a solid guide for your designs but you'll soon realize that you already recognize them in your everyday life and they aren't that foreign after all. 

The Structure Plane: Ah the ageless struggle between protecting the purity of a creative's vision and giving in to convention for clarity.  Technology and human intuition often are at odds with each other, with functionality ending up the victor. We can all relate to a time when we were faced with using a non-user centric consumer product.  Function-dominant programs are particularly easy to spot, giving you rather than a feast for the eyes, a snack.  

Now we are in an exciting age in which more people are connected than ever before (literally and metaphorically!) , where children are practically plugged in to the cloud before their first birthday. The world is more comfortable with technology than ever before and yet many creators feel the need to fulfill a binary, making a choice to either prioritize design or function.   However, as Garrett notes Unfamiliar conceptual models are only effective when users can correctly understand and interpret them. If the function of your creation is not easily recognizable or understandable it fails to fulfill not only your product's need but also your user's.  

                                                                        Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty Platos Atlantis Shoes, Photograph: Victoria and Albert Museum

                                                                        Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty Platos Atlantis Shoes, Photograph: Victoria and Albert Museum

There is definitely a time for creativity to take the driver's seat and let your vision flow into reality.  An infamous example is Alexander McQueen's "armadillo shoe".  Its structure? Beautiful.  Is it practical? No. The average user cannot (and will not) run down the block to hail a cab wearing them.  A select few might but if the majority find a product unusable many other factors must be incredible to still have a successful product.  Thankfully, the legacy of Alexander McQueen enables the shoe to be both inspiring and profitable.  The majority of products both digital and physical do not have this luxury.  You do not have this luxury. A designer must decide what they can sacrifice in order to gain a following and have a usable product.  It's not easy to accept but you can't completely run away from convention, and for a reason. Retraining the human brain takes a lot more than a cool story.

Function Over Form

Function Over Form

The Scope Plane: Be positive.  Such an easy phrase to say but so hard to follow through with.  It's often easier and more natural to be a critic.  Remember this cornerstone of childhood, "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all"? Well, when describing what your work should do a designer should live by this motto. Instead of describing a bad thing the system shouldn't do, describe what it will do to prevent that bad thing - Elements of User Experience  Being positive will allow you to focus on solutions.  You can describe every bad outcome of a system but if you do not have an effective solution your entire product will be vulnerable to failure.

Unfamiliar conceptual models are only effective when users can correctly understand and interpret them.
— Jesse James Garett, The Elements of User Experience

The Strategy Plane: The Lean UX approach is to focus on outcomes (explicitly defined business outcomes) rather than outputs (features & services). In comparison, The Elements of User Experience makes a point of avoiding the term business goals to describe internal strategic objectives and instead opting for the term product objectives, stating that the former doesn't fully explain the nature of a strategy.  When it comes down to it though, they both lead to the same result in terms of communication.  Websites are created for an economic purpose whether indirectly or directly, to save and/or to earn money.  No matter how you spin it companies are businesses and the products that represent them are only effective if they help support their longevity. 

Remember these insights and you will continue to grow as a designer.  I know that for me a strong foundation is greater than a crumbling one because who wants to have their designs not make users happy?  Nobody and definitely not you.