Ask Before You Scribble

As I mentioned, I recently started a new job as a User Experience Lead.

I’ve been thinking about a moment in my interviewing for the position, that illustrated a simple, yet important principle of user experience — asking questions first.

One of the people interviewing me explained a scenario in which we needed a console for a piece of equipment. The console required several elements, including:

  • Information about its current running state and the temperature of the fan within it
  • Ability to do basic tasks like shutting off the equipment and alter the fan speed
  • A place to review reports and more detailed information
  • He then handed me a piece of graph paper, a pencil and an eraser. Amidst my typical interview jitters, I grabbed the pencil and started drawing. I think I asked a couple questions about the equipment, but hastily came up with a simple sketch of the display.

    He thought it was a good stab. Then he mentioned that the users would wear big gloves, and the display would need buttons large enough to account for that.

    Now, an interview for many reasons is not “real life”. You have a tiny window to encapsulate your qualifications and history. Overall, I felt I portrayed myself very well. Obviously well enough, because I got the job!

    But the minute he mentioned the gloves thing, I mentally started kicking myself. I would have known such a detail if I had asked some basic questions about the target users before picking up the pencil.

  • Who will be using this?
  • What is the age demographic?
  • What technical aptitude does the typical user have?
  • To successfully create any experience– be it an application, a web site, a console — you need to understand who will be using it and how.

    Again, that was just a simple interview question.

    In the real world, finding out specifics about users should be the starting point. Interviewing actual users reveals a lot. User testing along the way helps focus your sketches, wireframes, designs, etcetera.

    In short, if you take the time to frame up in advance who your target users are, and test what you are creating along the way, you will better ensure that the end product is actually usable and accessible.

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