Recent Posts by Sam Gerdt
There was a time when social media and marketing platforms were willing to give you amazing value just for using their services and contributing to their grand experiment. Social media was one giant beta test, and it lulled people into believing that the goal of these new platforms was to create free exposure: to "connect people".
Unfortunately, the only real goal any successful business is going to have is generating revenue. Once that "free exposure" platform goes public, shareholders will be expecting to see profits.
Facebook is a great example. I want to break down what it takes to be effective on social media today, focusing mainly on a single metric.
In March 2018, the world learned that the private data of over 50 million Facebook users was secretly harvested by Cambridge Analytica and used on behalf of the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election. (We've since learned it was closer to 87 million users whose data was compromised.) For some, these revelations didn't come as a shock — Facebook, after all, is a business built around personal data collection — but for many, these revelations prompted a profound awakening. First, to the fact that Facebook and other social media platforms are collecting more data than we realize. Second, to the fact that Facebook isn't necessarily keeping that data a secret. And third, to the fact that our data may seem inconsequential, but can be used to do extraordinary things — like choose the next president (whether we vote for that candidate or not).
I recently presented for a local group of marketers on the topic of video marketing. After the talk, I asked the question, "Besides cost, what is the biggest factor keeping you from regularly producing videos?"
The unanimous answer was this: "Making videos takes too much time, and the process is too disruptive."
I cut my web design teeth in the age of skeuomorphism1 and flip phones. It’s OK if you don’t know what skeuomorphism means because no one is ever going to talk about it seriously again. In those days (this is 2003-2008) there was a culture of one-upmanship at work among web designers. We were pushing the boundaries to introduce more realism - more feeling and warmth - to the web. Your website was meant to feel like a room that was specifically yours - with your posters on the wall and your coffee rings on the desk. It’s no surprise that the actual content and function of the website was largely ignored. How many times did you have to wait for a painfully slow flash website to load just so the designer could literally add a flicker to the lightbulb that was inexplicably included in the design?
THIS OLD MAN SOAKED A ROLL OF TOILET PAPER IN KEROSENE ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT. WHAT HAPPENED NEXT WILL BLOW YOUR FLIPPIN’ MIND.
Remember when everyone (Waypost included!) was talking about “responsive design” like we had finally arrived at Web Nirvana? Chalk that one up to old dogs learning new tricks, I suppose, because the reality being revealed is that there is no final destination in sight and this train we’re on is more akin to the Japanese Bullet than your garden variety freight train.
We've covered research and prototyping, and now we actually have a fleshed out design to work with. It's time to do some testing. Usability testing is the last step in the UX design cycle (I say cycle because testing often results in more research and prototyping) and, sadly, is an often ignored part of the equation for one simple reason – nobody wants to pay for it. While it is true that whole-hog usability testing is expensive, you don’t need 100 strangers in a room with two-way glass to test a website. There are many ways to accomplish small scale usability testing with zero added cost, and I would highly recommend these practices to any small firm or sole-proprietor for whom proper testing is not an option.
The planning stage of a new design doesn’t end with research. Research answers the “who” and “what” questions, but not the “how” questions. The next tool in the true UX designer’s tool belt is most commonly referred to as prototyping (or wireframing). In a nutshell, prototyping involves taking all of those funnels, forms, and CTAs, organizing them in a way that makes everybody happy, and defining specific functionality before you start design – and it can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. This is where true UX designers stand above the rest and where we could all stand to improve.
In the future I will dedicate whole posts to prototyping. I will break down my own practice and offer suggestions for designers who don’t prototype. And speaking of designers who don’t prototype, here are a few reasons why you might consider incorporating some amount of prototyping into your design process. This list comes out of my own experience as a non-prototyper who ultimately saw the light and converted:
How much you, as a designer, research before you start new design speaks volumes of your claim to be a “UX designer.” As a student, and even as a young professional starting out, I was convinced that there was such a thing as “an eye for design,” and it showed in the amount of research I did (or didn’t do). While it is true that some people grasp the rules of design much more naturally than the rest, and perhaps some do possess greater natural ability in lesser regards (say, color vision); there is no natural ability contained within any person to divine rules for design and usability out of thin air and without prompting. All designers must research.
Research takes many shapes. For the more naturally gifted, research can be as simple as looking at other people’s work, or better yet, looking at nature. Personally, the majority of my early research that made up my misunderstood “eye for design” came from over-exposure to TV and the internet from a young age, a somewhat photographic memory, and a knack for pattern recognition. But for most designers, research looks more like work – especially when you dig deeper into functional design (web/application design, industrial design, packaging design, etc.).