Lessons from working on my first solo UX project
A while back I embarked on a project to recreate the experience of art markets online. While some lessons were more painful than others, all of them played a part in helping me grow the project to what it is today. For this post, I put together some of the key learnings I took away from this experience.
1. Learn to speak your users’ language
At the beginning stages of research, I needed to understand more about how sellers on marketplace told their stories. However, I realised after my pilot test of user interviews, that the questions I was asking were not yielding the kind of responses I wanted to collect.
“How do you typically tell stories about your products?”
When I phrased the question in this manner, most sellers responded that they didn’t tell stories in their practice, although reading through their product descriptions showed otherwise. I probed further, I realised that they just didn’t understand what a story was in the same way I did and could not identify instances of storytelling in their own practice. When they were writing about what inspired their creation, they didn’t realise that in doing so, they were telling a story. From this, I revised the way I phrased the question to:
“What inspires you in your work? How do you come with with new ideas?
How do you usually share this process with buyers?”
When asked in this manner, sellers were much more confident in sharing their thought processes and journey in their craft, the things they were excited to share to buyers and how they would do it. From here I could then understand how they told their stories online.
From this I learnt — users don’t always have the same understanding of the words in the way we may as designers. It is important to understand and empathise with your users to be able to speak to them in a manner that they understand and one makes them feel at ease in order to yield better responses to questions.
2. User observation is key in identifying blindspots
When conducting usability tests, it is important not to expect black and white pass/fail results. During one of the tests I conducted, I tasked users to create a ‘Marketplace’. When they were done I asked them what they thought of the feature and what they felt about the process in creating a ‘Marketplace’.
Almost all the users cited it as a positive experience and did not have issues with the interface. However, when cross-referencing this back to my observation notes, I realised that although some of them took a bit more time to create a ‘Marketplace’, they did not express any grievances against the interface.
It was only in observing them that I was able to pick up the subtle nuances in their behaviour that helped me to understand what they were struggling with. Through this I understood that the part within the process of creating a ‘Marketplace’ that they usually stalled at was thinking of the titles and descriptions for their collection.
So I made changed the style of the placeholder copy so that it was more conversational and would act as prompt for them to write. For example, the item description placeholder text was initially “Insert Description” and I changed it to “Share what this collection is about”.
This showed me that there were small details in the way the user experiences a product that they might not always be able to point out and express during the feedback session but being empathetic and sensitive to their behaviour can help us open ourselves to the users’ perspectives and uncover problems and reveal insights that might be hidden between the lines.
3. Innovation can happen in small ways
In the ideation stages of the project, I was very concerned about not being able to innovate the current experience of online art markets enough. I kept thinking I had to reinvent the whole marketplace experience by creating something people had never seen before. So I kept trying to push for big changes and big ideas, but when I tested them, they all fell flat.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that innovation doesn’t always mean coming up with the next groundbreaking idea. It only was after reading about what Tinder had done with the swipe gesture, a gesture that had long existed, and used it in a new way that changed the way people thought about yes and no interactions on a mobile app. These seemingly small ideas and changes were also forms of innovation. From then on I started to feel more confident in the small changes that I was making and pushed to develop them even further.
It is important to see that at its core, innovation is about serving people better and meeting their needs. I learnt that it is more important to innovate within the demands of the context than to create something that might be new but doesn’t actually solve a problem.
4. Keep reading, keep adapting, keep learning
I started this project because I was interested in trying my hands out in a UX project and in honing my research skills. This was the first project where I handled both UI and UX design alone and the learning curve was initially steep but I was never short of resources to help me in my endeavour. I attended many talks and workshops about how to conduct UX research, reached out to other designers on LinkedIn for advise, oh, and read LOTS of Medium articles on UIUX principles and best practices (I’ll leave a link to my favourite sites below!). All of this helped me to develop my process as a designer and learn new skills that I could apply to the project.
Although I was initially afraid to ask for advice (especially from strangers who were experts), I was able to overcome my fears and reach out to more experienced designers on LinkedIn to share their feedback on my work. They provided me with an abundance of wisdom that I used to iterate my product with. If I hadn’t reached out to them, I would have not known what areas of the project to improve on.
Here I learnt that it is important to share your work. Share it with designers, and share it with non-designers. Observe and learn from the work other designers create and ask for genuine feedback on yours!
Thank you for reading!
I hope these thoughts and reflections will be useful to you as you embark on your own projects.
If you have any thoughts about the project or have any feedback to share, I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading!
I hope this was useful to you and if you have any thoughts about the project or have any feedback to share, I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few of the publications I keep up with to learn more about design and design patterns.
Muzli — Design Inspiration
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Inside Design Blog | Thoughts on users, experience, and design
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