Thoughts: Contemplating Best Practices

Onboarding a project, typically as the “subject matter expert,” I often get asked what the “current” best practices are, and I find it interesting that it is spoken about like there are trends, so I decided to demystify what my job really is (to me), and what it is not, in the context of “best practices.”

I think UX Design Best Practices involve the strategy of research.

If, when I start on a project, I am handed a list of requirements based on user feedback, my first reflex will be to try to tell apart which ones come from a request, a critique, a logistical friction point, a bad mood, a wrong interpretation, an unclear task, a bad opinion, a terrible day, a lack of coffee, or a real issue.

More often than not, user feedbacks have multiple layers of truths, and a part of the research I do requires me to dig deep and listen to what is not obvious; almost (but not fully) ignoring any face value of a statement as pertinent data.

This is why I strongly encourage my clients to share with me the raw data they used—written words, recorded videos, or statistics—so that I can make sure nothing got lost in translation, and to surface any questions we may need answered before we move forward. This, in turn, will give me a sense of direction as to how to lead my research.

I think UX Design Best Practices involve the way we communicate solutions to a client.

If we can’t talk about a designed workflow like we’re telling a story, we’re probably doing it wrong. There are multiple reasons for prototyping; not all of them are to get people’s opinion.

Sometimes, we need it to see if the story we are telling through the workflow makes any sense; that we’re not leading our hero (the user) into a dead end, or a wall, or an abyss, or directly into a feature that doesn’t yet exist with expectations we are not ready to meet.

Most of the time, we need it to convey how we solved a problem.

I don’t think UX Design Best Practices involve a checklist of design trends to follow.

Revolutionary designs obviously change user behavior, but these don’t get released every other season.

Otherwise, questions like “where should the menu be?” and “would icons work here?” should be answered on a case by case basis based on multiple variables like:

  • The brand
  • The users
  • The problem we’re trying to solve
  • The way we are trying to solve the problem

Unfortunately, the recommendations in “best practices” are not “one size fits all,” but I fully understand how reassuring it can feel to follow a set of guidelines and hope the product we pour money, heart and soul in will never look astray or be a pain for others to use.

I think UX Design Best Practices involve approaching client requests in a way that will allow us to solve a problem instead of blindly executing what is asked.

During the years I studied UX Design, I was taught that clients will often come with solutions instead of problems; I did not realize how truthful that was until I started freelancing.

It’s always going to be a delicate situation, to educate the client on why we ask so many questions every time a request is made. Some take it as being challenged, and I spend a lot of time positioning the mindset into “exploring the context.” Why? Because the context is where the friction point was felt, and I believe UX Design is the work of bridging the gap between where the user is and where we want them to go.

I think UX Design Best Practices involve a really open mind, and non-attachment to ideas.

It’s important to remember that we cannot really dictate how users should behave when they use our solutions. Whether an app or a website ends up being used the way it was intended is a combination of who ends up trying to use it, and how it was designed.

This is why an open mind is crucial; because while we cannot control users, we can influence them, but to do so, we have to be ready to speak their language and tap into their habits, regardless of how awesome we thought our initial ideas were. The ideas might still be good, just not adapted to the targeted crowd.

The bottom line is that problem solving will hardly ever have a clear best practice, because problems are caused by, and goals are born from, circumstances specific to a product’s position within a market, and what we want to do about it.

Date published: October 21, 2020