How User Experience-based design can help engineers

Good design should be a central pillar in any business and now, more and more businesses are realising this. In fact, Inc listed UX design as one of the most ‘in-demand hard skills’ of 2019.

While UX (User Experience) design is primarily focused on software products, design engineers can benefit by embracing some of the core principles that make UX so successful.

What is UX design?

UX design evolved from the software industry and is based on the premise that the risk of failure can be reduced if design solutions are tested with real users before the product is built.

A step further is the notion that the best software products solve genuine problems for users, and you need to understand the problem before you design the solution.

It may sound simple, but many organisations fail here. As a result, the software industry is littered with poorly conceived and designed products.

Smarter organisations genuinely engage with users, using simple research techniques like user testing, to cut down waste and build market-leading products.

Design engineers typically operate in a different space to UX designers. The products are often more complex, but both roles centre on solving problems and bridging the gap between engineering and the end user.

Below are some key UX principles that could benefit design engineers:

Understand the problem you’re trying to solve

Good UX designers always take time up-front to learn about the problem that needs solving.

The simplest way to do this is to talk to the people who will ultimately use it.

What are you trying to do? What – if anything – is preventing you from doing it? How can it be done more effectively? Simple questions can lead to a thorough understanding of the problem to be solved during the research phase.

The UX profession has developed techniques for drawing information from users in a neutral, unbiased way, through in-depth interviews, surveys and contextual inquiry, primarily grounded in common sense.

Clearly define the problem, visually

“A perfect formulation of a problem is already half its solution.”
David Hilbert

Another step to save time later is to clearly define the problem. Research data can have rough edges and taking time to refine what you’ve learned can give clarity.

Again, UX designers have frameworks to do this, including personas and customer journey maps, which are simple and engaging ways to visually represent the problem and reduce ambiguity.

By taking the time to define the problem clearly to everyone on the project, the solution to the problem will begin to present itself.

Test before you build

Testing your designs with real users, not just in-house, before launch is a key step in the UX journey.

The real purpose for UX designers is to see if their design actually solve the user’s problem before the team starts the expensive – and irreversible – business of building the product. After all, the only arbiters of what works – or not – are the end users.

The best technique to do this is user testing (not to be confused with user acceptance testing) which is a quick and cost-effective way of ironing out kinks before build occurs. It’s a cornerstone of the UX profession and, with a little dedication and some practice, can easily be learned by any experienced design engineer.