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You’re Not The User: The Common Mistakes Designers Are Making

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“You’re not the user!” This is a phrase that has been repeated extensively in the UX industry for a while. The purpose of this phrase is to remind us to NEVER forget who we are designing for as designers tend to project their own behaviours onto users. This sounds easy and straightforward, but it took me a while to actually practice it and yet, I am still learning. Here are some of the mistakes I have made in the past and a few tips on how to avoid them:

Common mistakes I made:

- Only wanted to hear what I wanted to hear 🎧

As human beings, we have the tendency to gravitate towards the part of a sentence that looks or sounds most favourable to us. This is completely normal as this is part of human nature! For designers, it is a common mistake to only focus on our assumptions when we are learning about our users. I had made a similar mistake during my very first user interview. Before the interview, my partner and I had done some desk research and came up with a few hypotheses on how our users would behave. I was very excited and I couldn’t wait to verify my assumptions. I was looking forward to hearing about their problems and pain points, and that ah-ha moment where I could finally scream “I knew it!” in my head.

Unfortunately, the interview didn’t go the way as I had imagined. I had met with an interviewee who wasn’t my target user. Instead of understanding her problem, I was unintentionally guiding her with my questions to answer what I wanted to hear as my hypothesis was clearly just my assumption. After the interview, my partner highlighted some leading questions that I had asked. And he reminded me that the way I constructed the questions could affect the quality of the result. It is human nature to want other people to share the same opinion as you. However, the sole purpose of a user interview is to understand other people’s thoughts and not justifying your assumption. It is difficult to listen objectively and discover user insight without personal biases. (Shout out to user researchers! 🥳🥳)

- Consider your product as your baby 👶

I believe many visual designers have had similar experiences. You think your work is ready to go, your design is perfectly polished, and you have named your filename “final design”. However, for various reasons, the filename of your artwork has gone from “final design” to “final design_V1”, “final design_v100”..etc. It is emotionally frustrating.

I remember the time when I was a fully dedicated UI designer, I would spend a lot of time crafting every detail of my design. I would feel so annoyed every time I heard from the product manager that they had decided to do it in another way or from the developer that they had refused to implement my design. I would have to defend my work so that it wouldn’t be thrown away. These cycles happened regularly in the past. You may quickly jump to the conclusion and think that the root cause of this is a problem in team communication or development. However, I believe it is more than that. Instead of advocating for the user, such behaviour only influences everyone to speak from their position. We tend to see products from our own perspective, not the user. Similarly, we’re behaving like parents who expect their children to grow up following their arrangements and believing they know what is best for them, while forgetting to listen and understand their feelings.

- Build hypotheses & assumptions based on your own guesses 🧐

It is common to project our personal opinion, beliefs, preferences, and behaviours unto others. In psychology, this is called the false-consensus effect. We assume that others will share the same beliefs as us and we might reflect our own behaviours unto others.

Empathising with your users is the first stage of design thinking. Designers will use several methodologies to put themselves into the user’s shoes. By doing so, it helps us to gain insights such as user needs, wants, behaviours, feelings, and thoughts. It is also common to mistakenly think of users as ourselves and believe that they will react in the same way as we had predicted. There is nothing wrong to have a gut feeling at this stage, but it is very dangerous to make decisions or summarise user behaviour based on your own guesses. The hypotheses and assumptions are just a small portion of the research so it is too early to make objective decisions here.

So, how do we get to know more about a user and avoid making mistakes:

- Experiments: Test, Test, Test🧪

Learning about users can be a long journey. By running experiments with different design and content variations, evaluating A/B or multivariate tests will improve our learning results. This will guide us to understand the user needs and pain points, and from there we can offer the right solution to their problems. Moreover, goals and metrics should be identified to develop an ongoing measurement plan to track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This KPI can be used to indicate any UX issues. Nowadays, these metrics include unique visitors, page views, unique page views, conversion rate, exit rate, bounce rate, and many more.

- Research ≠ prediction.

User research is not meant to predict user behaviour; it’s to analyse user behaviour. When we are sorting research results, we shouldn’t focus on how much the outcome matches with our prediction. Instead, we need to identify the root problems and needs from the data. For example, Affinity mapping is a good methodology to help us find mother insights and we can genuinely find the objective we need from these insights. Remember, you are doing research, not making a prediction.

Design changes are normal 🤷‍♂️🤷‍♀️

As designers, we need to adapt to a developing process that includes regular design changes. We need to bear in mind that these design adjustments do not mean throwing your work away or neglecting your design, it only means that it is not working for the user at this time. There is no such design that is always right for the user as user behaviours change from time to time and environment. Remember the time when the first phone with a full-touch screen was released? Many people complained that the press feedback was not as prominent as feature phones. But as time went, this issue has long been improved through faster UI and interaction design, and touch screens are now widely accepted by users.

On the other hand, remember Blackberry? Blackberry decided not to follow the touch screen innovation, and instead stuck with the traditional physical keyboard. Time has proved that the product no longer meets the users needs, and in the end, it was eliminated. Users are constantly changing and evolving, and it is vital for us to keep the pace.

- You are a scientist, not a user👩‍🔬👨‍🔬

Think of yourself as a scientist! We must work as a scientist and be able to endure endless iterations of testing and failure, because this is how we can improve. Adopting a user-centred design mentality will help us provide the right strategies and solutions that ensure user advocacy and optimal experience.

Last but not least, I designed this wallpaper for my desktop to constantly remind myself that I’m not the user. If you like it, please feel free to download it! Let’s think like a scientist and never give up on experimenting!