The ‘Art’ of User Experience

Cindy Pae-Moebius / Tuesday, May 5, 2015

There are many ongoing discussions about User Experience, Usability, Design, Development, Agile, etc.  I’m hearing – more and more - a theme of ‘Design, Build, Test’ or ‘Design, Test, Build’.   The theory is that as long as you test your design with users, you are doing User Experience.  Something about this just seems to miss the mark.  It excludes the ‘Art’ of User Experience.


It’s the classic ‘Art vs. Science’ argument.   Visual Arts and Liberal Arts fields can give you a broader, softer set of skills that focus on creativity, intuition and empathy.  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields may rely more on the analytical mind and scientific method to determine facts and prove theories.  User Experience/Design is a field – like many - that employs both.  In fact, we can already start to see some movement toward this concept with Rhode Island School of Design’s STEM to STEAM effort. 

Research, Design, Test

In UX, you really should have some user research – which is different than ‘testing’ your users.  At some point (hopefully, on a continuous basis), you should gather some data and information about who your users are.  This research often uses a scientific method of gathering data and analyzing it.  However, once information is gathered we can start to develop an understanding of those users.  Then, intuition and empathy kick in to help create solutions for those users and their needs based on what you know of the users and what you’re creativity and problem-solving skills tell you might be a good solution.  Once that solution is designed, we go back to a more scientific method of testing designs with users.

Build the Right Thing

If you don’t have a good understanding of your users to begin with, you could very easily go down the wrong path.  Think of your list of ‘things to do’, whether it’s a project plan, roadmap, backlog or whatever.  Where did these items come from?  Did someone who truly understands the user compile it or is it just a list of requests from executives, customers or sales?  If you simply take items off that list and start designing and usability testing, you may build something ‘usable’ that doesn’t actually meet the users’ needs.  Even in LeanUX, you still need to start with a good understanding of who your users are and what they need -  you need to ‘build the right thing’ not JUST ‘build the thing right’.  If you can do this, you’ll get closer to a good solution sooner.

The Art of Understanding

This understanding is the Art of UX .  Whether you’re doing waterfall or LeanUX, being able to empathize with the user and anticipate his or her needs isn’t something that can be scientifically done.  The creativity of the solution isn’t in whether it works or not or whether it’s  usable.  It’s all about whether it solves an actual problem the user is having and/or whether it does so with delight.  The better you are at understanding the problems the user is having, the better your solutions will solve them.