The UX of Working With You

Kent Eisenhuth / Thursday, September 25, 2014

The creative process can be an emotional roller coaster for both designers and clients alike.  Clients must trust the design team to conceive a solution that will meet the needs of their customers. The experience our client has throughout the design process is just as important as the design itself.  It can lead to a more successful project, better relationship and future work.

In the design world, we often use Jakob Nielsen’s 10 heuristics for interaction design to review the software we’re designing.  Let’s turn the lens inward and use these heuristics to reflect on our own process.  Think of yourself, the designer, as the software and the client as the user.


1. Visibility/Status

In the software world, this refers to the software providing timely status and feedback messages to a user. Communication is key.

When thinking about our process, we need to consider stakeholders and users as members of the design team. In this day in age, we can’t afford to be off in a corner making pretty layouts for hours on end, only to have our designs bomb during a “big reveal” moment. We need to allow clients and users to design with us. Including their ideas and feedback in your work often gives the client a sense of ownership in the design.

We should always be transparent about the challenges we’re facing throughout a project. Setting expectations early can mitigate disasters downstream.  


2. Match Between System and Real World

Software should use language relevant to users in its messaging, not language that was derived from system-oriented terms [1].

Our design lingo may confuse clients.  It is a foreign language to them. We should note how our clients and users describe their ideas and use similar language to describe our design work. They will be able to relate to it more easily.

3. User Control and Freedom

Software should always provide a way out. Users are going to make mistakes and should be able to get back on track easily [1].

The creative process may go in different directions. Design workshops are a great way to bring clients into the fold. Allow them to sketch workflows and screen layouts with you. It’s important to keep your ideas in a rough format so clients can quickly adapt to requirement changes throughout the process. Seeing an idea develop can lead to productive conversations, revisions or new ideas that are even better.


4. Consistency and Standards

Software should follow platform conventions. Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing [1]. 

Since this process will be a new experience for most clients, it’s important to use consistent language when describing both the process and your design. This will reduce learning curves and result in more meaningful collaboration.


5. Error Prevention

Eliminate error-prone conditions, or create a careful design, which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place [1].

Having detailed conversations about each design recommendation is crucial, especially if you’re presenting low fidelity work. Show process work early and often. If you need to change your direction, you can do it with little effort and you won’t sacrifice time or budget.

6. Recognition Rather than Recall

Nielsen also recommends minimizing the user’s memory load by increasing visibility of the objects, actions, and options [1].  

This especially applies to design presentations. Always recap where you came from before showing new work. Don’t force clients to remember what you presented in the past. Show it. Explain where you’re going at the end of each presentation.

The presentation itself should be thorough. If you’re in the weeds of a screen-flow, outline each individual step and transition. That way there’s no question how you got from point A to point B.


7. Flexibility and Efficiency of Use

A good user interface will not only be intuitive for novice users, but it will have unseen features that will accelerate a power user’s experience [1].

We need to tailor our design process and practices to the clients’ level of experience. If they’ve been through the process before, we don’t need to spend as much time educating them. We can use that time for additional collaboration.

8. Aesthetics and Minimalist Design

Dialogues should not contain information that is irrelevant or rarely needed [1]. 

The same holds true when prioritizing milestones and artifacts to create within a design project. We should only create artifacts that best communicate our end vision. For instance, if a product map isn’t going to help you communicate your idea, then there’s no need to create one. Sometimes it’s best to choose artifacts as you learn more about the requirements and work through the process.

9. Help Users Recognize, Diagnose and Recover from Errors

Error messages should be expressed in plain language. They should help users pinpoint the problem and suggest solutions [1]. 

You will inevitably receive pushback from a client during some point in the process. When this happens, it’s important to understand the client’s perspective and adapt to their feedback. Together, you can work toward a solution with which everyone is happy. You need to be open to receiving and accepting feedback from non-designers.

10. Help and Documentation

No matter how well software is designed, it’s important that help and documentation is included [1].

We need to consider this when we’re documenting our designs. You never know when an engineer might be asked to create a new icon that matches the custom set you created.  Wouldn’t it be better if you could provide instructions and grids for building new icons?  Keep the documentation relevant to the audience. Get to know the development team and understand what information they need for the build. You will avoid spending unnecessary hours working on unnecessary documentation.

Next time you’re reflecting on your own design process. Consider applying these principles. You never know what you might learn about yourself. 



[1] Nielsen, Jakob. “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design.” Nielsen Norman Group, January 1, 1995.