UX specialists are an integral part of the industry. Whether they’re ensuring websites are accessible, analysing and collecting data to deliver effectively-timed campaigns or executing new, evolving strategies, UX is essential for bringing brands closer to their customers on a day-to-day basis.
With that said, there is often confusion about what UX actually is, and how it gets approached in the workplace on a day to day basis. For this reason, LBB spoke to some of the industry’s best and brightest in UX, including Performance Art’s Thiago Santarem, Digitas UK CXO Jane Austin, Juniper Park\TBWA managing director, precision marketing Liam Steuart, VMLY&R chief experience design officer Kaleeta McDade, Sid Lee UX director Mathieu Pigeon, Publicis Groupe Japan head of UX/UI strategy and design Mario Kounio, Digitas SVP, head of experience design, Boston region Debbie Goff, Accenture Song design director, Middle East Dida Atassi, VaynerX VP of brand experience Jackie Licari, VaynerMedia London video editor Miri Kamara, R/GA SVP global head of design Saulo Rodrigues and Iris head of UX Ann-Marie Kinlock, with the hopes of learning more.
LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with them to learn more about why and how people don’t understand UX design.
Senior visual designer, Performance Art
When it comes to the biggest misconceptions and myths about UX, these are some things that I’ve heard during the process:
‘We just want to create a cool website!’
Creating a cool website, an app or a dashboard for a campaign is exciting. Sometimes though, that laser-focus on the novelty of what we’re building can result in a lack of critical thinking about how users will interact with what you are building. As UX professionals, we must always remember that everything in the digital space should be considered a product that people interact with, and must be treated as such. Regardless of the purpose or lifecycle of what you’re creating, people will be engaging with it – so factors like accessibility and usability (in addition to, of course, the ‘cool-factor’) need to be taken into consideration.
‘I’m not a UX designer so I can’t say whether or not [insert feature] is working’
Everything we interact with on a daily basis is an experience. The car door, the buttons on the remote, your coffee maker – you name it. And, we all experience things in different ways. UX, as a discipline, has room for input from virtually everyone. It helps expand our lenses, consider new perspectives and use cases, and helps fight confirmation bias. At the end of the day, users are real people – and factors such as cultural differences, language barriers, and accessibility for both visible and invisible disabilities arise during the process. And inevitably, the diverse ideas and experiences that are brought to the table during a UX brainstorming session will always help the work become even better. So no, you don’t have to be a UX designer to think about UX design and users.
‘Hey! We have this cool UI, we just need you to think about the UX’
UX and UI go hand in hand, true, but ideally, UX should come before and should be based on a clear goal for the product. Creating a beautiful UI without thinking about wireframes, user flows and how your product could behave on different devices is a sure-fire way of having to restart a project process. It’s understandable that in certain processes and projects, we can get caught up in creating a really slick website, but as soon as someone comes in and starts asking questions such as ‘Remind me, why are we doing this? What is the end goal for the user? How is it going to work on mobile?’ – the process and project could be in danger. The job of UX in early stages and throughout the process is to highlight the goals, requirements, and tasks with the goal of reducing user friction and optimising their experience.
‘Thinking toward the future’
As UX professionals, we’re all tackling new projects using nascent technologies in environments that we either haven’t seen before, or haven’t yet leveraged their full capabilities. As we enter this new frontier, UX and UI are needed now more than ever. We’ll have new tools and new opportunities to create experiences, but the foundation of UX will still ask many of the same questions, acting as a north star to help strategy, technology and creative align on a few core truths:
WHAT is the purpose of this product?
WHY would this benefit the users?
WHAT do we want them to do?
HOW do we remove friction while users interact with the product?
WHERE can we surprise and delight them?
Once all areas are aligned on these key fundamentals, no matter what the task at hand, whether it is AR, VR, web2, web2.5, web3, the Metaverse, apps, activations, or websites – absolutely anything can be done.
The biggest misconception about UX centres on the debate around the difference between UX and UI. If you Google this, you will see hundreds of results, memes, blog posts and twitter debates. In my opinion the misconception is not around understanding the difference between the two, but instead thinking the distinction really matters.
Ironically for a discipline so focused on the end user, this debate is very internally directed, and driven by the fact that early in the history of user experience, many UX designers had no visual design skills - instead coming from backgrounds like psychology and human factors. However, nowadays many designers are product designers with a cross functional skills set, who appreciate and understand that how something works and how it looks are inextricably linked; form and function both impact the user experience.
This debate about outputs has been damaging for the profession because it means we aren’t talking about the outcomes and impact we can have if you involve design all through the process. And this is where the second misconception about UX design comes in – that it is something you can sprinkle on at the end of a project. Involving design from the start means that you can focus on understanding your customers and their needs, which is a driver of innovation. It also means you are able to execute a better solution.
So, I wish more people were aware that UX is a competitive advantage. Giving people what they actually want and need - rather than what the business thinks they want - and making the solution 10 times better than the competition is the secret to success, and this can only be done by having a cross functional team that includes business and design.
Better design means better business.
Managing director, precision marketing, Juniper Park\TBWA
As we shift away from traditional advertising and into disruptive brand experiences, UX Design is becoming increasingly important. However, some key misconceptions remain:
‘The user is always right’
Obviously the ‘U’ is there for a reason, but a common pitfall is allowing user feedback in early design stages to steer us into too narrow a view. We have business objectives to meet, so striking the right balance between needs and objectives is key. Designing proper research methodology and usability testing is critical in early UX stages.
‘Users are not willing to share their data’:
Once you have achieved the proper balance of business vs customer needs, we can start asking about how we’ll personalise the user experience to deepen engagement. One of the biggest shifts impacting UX in this space is something we call the ‘Data Rush’. As it turns out, the vast majority of customers are willing to share their behavioural data if in return, brands can deliver a more tailored, easier experience. Planning for this early in UX design can ensure brands deliver on this value exchange with their customers.
‘Accessibility is a checkbox’:
Too often, this is something that gets tackled in the final design stages to ensure that whatever local compliance guidelines are met. We recommend that accessibility is elevated to be a constant principle in the design process – something we call ‘Inclusive by Design’. 15% of the world’s population experiences some form of disability. Focusing on their unique needs in the UX process can lead to breakthrough innovation across your user base.
Chief experience design officer, VMLY&R
Most people try to make sense of UX based on the assets we create, but UX begins as an open-ended question with endless possibilities. We move in outcomes and not outputs. More than wireframes, we are empathetic problem solvers and storytellers who create narratives that connect brands on-and-off the page. We are creators that make stories into story systems and ephemeral moments into lasting relationships - binding the tie between humans and brands. We are the slightly left-brained creative weirdos who have grown up in the shadow of our right-brained, sexy advertising siblings. And although we are fully grown, we are still perceived as the little sibling, making this an unfolding coming of age story.
We are full of capability, and are awaiting our time in the sun. If agency creatives make the brand promise, we deliver on that promise over time, amplifying the idea with emotional connection at every encounter and medium. We are enabled by technology, not led by it, yet guided by the human condition. At worst we are functional, at best we are digital humanists.
UX director, Sid Lee
These are some of the most common misconceptions about UX I’ve seen:
‘UX design is…’
When you think about user experience for your project, you probably have a fairly specific portrait of what a UX designer’s contribution will be. But, that portrait is going to be radically different depending on which experts you’ve interacted with. UX is anything but a homogeneous practice, and covers completely different specialties, mindsets and objectives.
There’s the obvious divide between research and design, but ‘UX design’ also means completely different things depending on the practitioner’s background and areas of focus, strategy, information architecture, visual design, content, interaction, accessibility, technology, etc.
The team structure and the types of project being worked on can completely change a designer’s perspective, which is why we mix people from different backgrounds on our team. You’re not getting the same output from people used to working on campaigns in a typical 360 agency (it’s often about impact and deadlines) vs. those working on a product at a start-up (they typically focus on engagement and iterations), or those in services inside a large corporation (systems and norms).
‘It needs to be backed up by data’
Everyone wants to see the numbers, because making a choice feels so much safer with lots of them! Sorry to rain on your parade, but you rarely get much relevant data without actually doing the work and then testing and measuring it.
Getting insight that is ‘good enough’ at the right time is better than getting excellent insight too late. A few guerrilla tests early on are better investments than a large formal test with eye tracking at the end. Each guerrilla test is limited, but it’s quick, cheap, and can be repeated until we find a better solution through iteration. The fancy test at the end will tell us more precisely what doesn’t work, but usually, implementing significant changes is not going to happen, both due to no time, no budget. Also, not everything that matters can be measured, especially if you don’t have a huge audience and a long-time frame.
‘It’s about delivering sitemaps and wireframes’
As much as we love precisely crafting everything… no. These are throwaway artefacts that we use to help plan the actual deliverable: the website, app or other digital product. And even that is just a tool acting as a proxy between two interlocutors – the actual user experience we’re trying to simulate. That’s what we need to prioritise. By shifting some of the time allocated to intermediary deliverables, we can get better customer insight to focus functionalities more effectively, and increase collaboration on that ‘fine-tuning’. It’s often the difference between okay and great.
Head of UX/UI strategy and design, Publicis Groupe Japan
Many people think UX is as simple as clicking buttons on a screen, but it is profoundly more complex than that. UX designers bring the ‘why’ to the table. We start by understanding what people want and why they want it. This means we can design products and services that address people’s needs - both physiological and emotional. If you bring user experience design into your conversation, you will ensure the correct positioning, longevity, (measurable) value and innovative nature of your solutions.
To me, it’s hard to distinguish whether this field of design is an art or science. It involves human emotion, behavioural science, large amounts of data and new technologies, but at the same time, visual expression exists in tandem with all that complexity. Our constant concern is innovation. We want to design solutions for deeper problems, and that’s what I love about what I do.
I wish that more traditional creatives would understand what UX designers bring to the table. Say you’re launching a new campaign. By partnering that campaign with data and a CRM, we can get it to the right person at the right time, at the right moment. We can help you to give your clients an exponentially bigger, trackable result. Data acquisition is driven through digital interaction – how you best facilitate digital interaction is a massive value drive, and it’s what UX designers are all about.
People’s interactions with businesses are already insanely complex, and it’s only going to get more complex. If you’re struggling to navigate this complexity, chances are you need to talk to a UX designer.
SVP, head of experience design, Boston region, Digitas
UX Design is more than most people think it is.
For a start, it isn’t just digital. It’s not just a single screen, device, impression, or interaction. We look at how every omni-channel touchpoint comes together, whether that is digital, physical, human or automated. It’s all of the connections between websites, apps, emails, texts, retail spaces, events, customer service, and more. Even if a specific project has a smaller footprint or is an iteration of an existing experience, we think about how it fits into the bigger picture to be seamless for the audience.
UX Design is also not a lower funnel afterthought to a broader media strategy. If an ad reaches a billion people globally, but conversion is a disconnected and difficult task, is the campaign still a success? If we drive millions of people to an educational hub but no one engages with the content, what did they learn? We are the critical link between getting a target audience's attention, and then driving the right behaviour and ongoing value-exchange. We pay off the awareness through purposeful action.
In essence, UX Design is about making things easy to use and meaningful. We focus on how humans and brands interact. We are the voice of the audience without sacrificing the business needs. We use real data. We design for joy, empathy and emotion. We’re strategy, research, user flows, user interface design, information architecture, content, interaction design, visual design, graphic design and motion design. Really, we’re the whole package of art and science. We’re your partners and collaborators from the beginning to the end of a consumer journey.
Design director, Middle East, Accenture Song
In my experience, the biggest misconception about UX design is the belief that it’s done once designed and delivered. On the contrary, design is a living and breathing reflection of a user’s behaviours and patterns at a point in time. But, those behaviours change along with the world around us. Therefore, it’s important to recognise that understanding the user isn’t a one-time activity. It’s ongoing, and designs need to evolve alongside changing human behaviour.
Take the pandemic, for example. Human behaviour changed rapidly in a short period of time. Both designers and companies had to adapt by recognising the once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to re-invent experiences, such as how we work. And now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, we need to pivot our thinking to the new user. The new user is purpose-driven, hyper-aware of their health, prefers contactless/touchless experiences, prioritises convenience, and emphasises that home is the centre of their lifestyle.
Therefore, I believe that because of these rapid changes, we cannot deliver designs and walk away. Instead, designers need to design, deliver, and monitor. We need to see how users interact with our products, recognise their needs and their pain points, and continually tweak and enhance our designs to make sure they are relevant, meaningful, and provide a truly rewarding experience that changes lives for the better.
VP of brand experience, VaynerX
I think the biggest thing that's changed for me is how much pressure I put on a project to really get it right. UX is driven by so much research, and I love that part of the process, but I also used to have hesitations about launching a product or a site because I wanted to have all the answers. However, there's endless amounts of learning you can do to fully understand your users and the utility your product will play, how and when they'll experience it, and what their needs and hurdles may be – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
What I've fallen more in love with throughout the years, is that you don't have to necessarily get it all right as long as you have the foundational framework, systems in place, and the analytics and tools set up to constantly listen and learn from your users interacting with a particular product that you're working on.
Things change daily; needs change, your brand changes, and what role you play can change. Experiences are infinite in their uniqueness, so if you're constantly checking in with the interactions, asking for feedback, and setting up those moments where you can learn and iterate, not only are you constantly bettering your product and adapting to the human aspect, but you're also allowing yourself to be more open and agile.
For me personally, not being tied down to the pressures of a big launch and getting it all right actually generates me putting out more work.
The biggest misconception I had about UX Design before studying it was that it was all about designing aesthetically pleasing web pages or apps, and only those things. I didn’t realise how much research on user' behaviour goes into it, and how vital it is for informing your final design.
It’s crucial to start with a thorough background check on the company you’re working for. What's their annual revenue? Who is their target market? What’s currently working on the user’s experience and what isn't? The answers will guide you to what audiences are expecting. It’s also equally important to do research into their competitors. Firstly, who are they? What do users like about their products? Are their websites or apps easy to use? What similarities do you both have? Knowing the answers helps to minimise risks and source evidence for your own, individual design strategies.
Then, teams need to begin interviews and surveys to find out what users really think about your product. Based on the findings, you can create user personas that really hone in on their likes, dislikes and behaviours. All of this data forms the beginning of the design process, which strictly focuses on putting innovative solutions into users’ hands. Design is also incredibly detailed and full of exciting techniques, but there are too many to list here! It all comes back to a thorough understanding of what you’re working with, who it's for, and how it can differ from the rest of the market.
I wish people were more aware that UX and UI are not the same thing. Although some roles are quite fluid, they both focus on very different things. For me, UX looks at how software works and improves the experience for users, while UI looks at how the software looks and makes the users feel.
SVP global head of design, R/GA
I believe the main misconception about UX design today is related to the belief that its main objective is to simplify things in a very functional, rational and logical way. While true, it's only part of the bigger picture. This core belief is creating great experiences with way better interaction than years ago, but with one caveat; everything is looking the same, without any true connection to the brand, a unique emotional connection, or a spark that takes your breath away when you first use it.
Design without function is art, and this brings up our main responsibility as designers. We aim to create a better world through design - a world where everything has a function and a world that is frictionless. But, a world that functions without an emotional connection will be a very dry, boring and expected world. How fun is that? To me, design without function is art, but design without art is forgettable. It’s quite a dangerous place to be nowadays, especially due to the fact that everything (yes, everything) will have an interface 10 years from now.
An example of the one side view of UX design is how design systems are now being created to mainly drive efficiency, rather than being a way to create a new, better experience for the consumers and the brand. Every interaction is an opportunity to surprise our audience, from a simple loading animation to a new way to navigate through a map.
In design, we need to believe in a really hard metric to be tracked, which is ‘emotion and feeling’. These characteristics will not show up on data research most of the time. When testing something new, it's almost impossible to get a positive comment from a user-test… We love surprises as much as we hate them, it's just human behaviour. But we all know the feeling when we see something great for the first time, and usually it's not just, ‘Oh, this works’.
A great design - the one you will remember, buy it, and get back to it - is a design combining
function and emotion with science and art.
Head of UX, Iris
‘UX is technology’
We work super closely with the tech team, but we’re not constrained by their limitations. UX helps to push the boundaries of tech by working to meet and exceed customer expectations. We help define the experience and we work with tech to help bring that optimal experience to life.
‘UX is design’
We work closely with design and in the pursuit of meeting and exceeding customer needs. We listen to their ideas and collaborate to create the optimum solution.
‘UX comes later’
In many teams, in-house and agency-side, the general thinking is that UX is something you can add on after the product strategy has been defined. This situation can happen anywhere, but occurs most often in the context of a waterfall project. Thinking of UX as an after-thought limits the contribution of UX to a delivery role. UX is an integral part of the strategy and planning.
‘UX is strategic’
When given the space to do what it does best, UX feeds directly into the strategic objectives of a business and can contribute to important KPIs around acquisition, retention, loyalty and more.
‘UX is connective’
By its integrative nature, UX connects with multiple specialisms and departments to create a broader view of the problem, and define a holistic solution that meets business and customer needs.
‘UX is participative’
UX at its best brings in the voice of the customer, the voice of employees, and the voice of the business into every step of the design process - the thinking, the solution and the final outcomes.