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It was a big year for design. With the industry growing and changing at such a rapid pace, we thought it would be fitting to ask a few UXperts about what they learned this year. What shifted their thinking, left an impact on them as a designer, or made them think about their work in a new way?

Four UX designers reveal their greatest lessons from 2016 in hopes of inspiring other designers to think outside the UX. Here’s what they had to say.

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As designers we make a lot of assumptions around the value of a product or the effectiveness of an experience. For the most part this isn’t terrible; we are hired for our knowledge, critical thinking, and expertise. However, assumptions are often wrong and surprises exist everywhere.

At Onyx, we used to build entire products out and save feedback and user testing for the last phase, which resulted in excessive ‘re-work’ or launching something that no one actually wanted. Today, validating an idea is the first thing we do. We find our audience and ask them questions directly. You don’t need to spend much to do this. Find specialized groups online (Reddit or Facebook even), or bring it up to people around us. When I design, I show others early to get some initial feedback to ensure I’m stepping out my tunnel vision. It’s tough to get out of the perfectionist mindset, but it’s crucial to iterate and learn fast with such a quick moving industry where most people fail. It’s worth saying that learning comes from openly communicating, and I think the age of the ‘hermit’ designer is over.

~ Josh Principe, Product Designer, Partner at Onyx


Step Outside of Yourself

katvellosOne of the best pieces of advice I saw circulated in 2016 was by @mrmrs and Mike Monteiro — they were both speaking about The Veil of Ignorance and its importance as part of the design practice.

The Veil of Ignorance is like empathy on steroids. It requires you to truly step outside of yourself, step outside of your world. It asks: If you knew that once your design decisions were made, you would suddenly become a very different person with different abilities and challenges than your current ones, how might your design choices change, to make sure that what you’re designing now would also work for you afterwards? It goes beyond the basics of “What is the user trying to accomplish?” and “How can I make this experience beautiful and delightful?” It provokes deeper questions such as:

  • “What’s the problem behind the problem?”
  • “Might there be an unintended negative use of the thing I’m designing that I need to account for?”
  • “How do my proposed solutions help create a world that’s more equitable, inclusive and successful for as many people as possible?”

For me, the veil of ignorance is a practice that combines my passion for great design with my commitment to social justice in the service of creating a better world. I encourage every designer to get familiar with it. Use it. Make it a part of your awareness and your craft.

~ Kat Vellos, UX Designer


Go Figure It Out

mattolpinski-headshot-2The best advice I heard in 2016 was a bit ironic. During a conference I overheard Mitch Goldstein, a professor at RIT, say to a student, “Stop looking for advice. Go figure it out.”

That resonated with me because I’ve seen so many designers waste their time reading blog posts, finding inspiration on Dribbble, writing Medium articles, and arguing about best practices, that they forget about their most valuable asset – their own creativity.

I think designers need to spend more time refining their ability to get the job done without someone else’s approval or influence. The most creative people are the ones who have found the delicate balance between being themselves and seeking influence from others.

~ Matt Olpinski, Design Consultant


UX is About More Than Design

jonfox_headshotOne of my central philosophies has always been that wherever a user (customer, consumer, candidate, etc.) and a brand intersect is UX.

Working in enterprise software, in an industry that is very engineering and sales-oriented, where the bulk of revenue comes from a platform with minimal UI, it became clear that UX extends far beyond the design of the product. As we fought for dominance on our roadmap and worked to go beyond being a managed product service fielding requirements to a strategic entity that would drive business strategy, I received this advice from one of my mentors: “The thing most designers fail to realize is that UX is a business function more than a design function. It requires knowing how business operates both inside and out to truly affect change. Most UX designers focus on the creative aspects, but knowing how business runs is key to making an impact.”

I have learned that this change in focus is where UX needs to be positioned to go beyond an entity that can affect the product to one that can affect a company, and especially an industry.

~ Job Fox, Director of UX

Have anything to add? What advice resonated with you this year? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Sheena Lyonnais

Sheena Lyonnais

Sheena Lyonnais is a Toronto-based writer, editor and digital specialist. She works in content marketing by day, studies digital strategy by night, and practices yoga somewhere in between. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.


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