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AINARA SAINZ GUTIERREZ: Designing for the real world

Designers need to create for real people, not for themselves

CRAFTED BY Ainara Sáinz Gutiérrez, interactive designer at Unbounce

I‘m an interactive designer and my goal has always been to create stunning and polished design experiences. Have my deliverables always been successful? No. Why? Because I didn’t test my concepts as much as I should have and, instead, I just made a lot of assumptions. In reality, I wasn’t designing for the real world.

As a designer, it’s really easy to go with your gut, with your idea or be guided by your own personal experience. It’s so tempting to make assumptions when it comes to context that it often leads us to disappoint our users and make potentially dangerous design decisions.

As confident as we can be, we never know for sure what the user really wants until we test it – with them. And yes, it took me going through a few cycles of creating deliverables and experiencing frustration in order to fully appreciate the value of knowing the user’s context!

There are questions I now always look for answers to. Who’s my target audience? Where are they and which device are they using to interact with my design? How much time are they willing to spend on the site? Is someone else influencing them? What is their emotional state?

Who’s my target audience? Where are they and which device are they using to interact with my design?

My mentors always told me to spend time with my users in order to see their pain points through their eyes. At the beginning, I felt really intrusive and invasive but then I recognised the value of observing and listening before thinking.

The most useful things for me as a designer was conducting contextual inquiry interviews – one-on-one interactions with my user in which I was able to observe and interview them as they did their normal activities. After these interviews, I jumped into a master-apprentice role in which I learned from them by watching. Being sure not to steal too much of their time, I was able to understand my audience’s behaviours and identify how my product could fit into their daily lives.

Finding out the user’s needs and motivations now helps guide me into the right track for my projects, and by having a clear understanding of my user’s lives, I’m able to generate informed and solid hypotheses.

The next stage is translating these hypotheses into potential solutions and then into potential features. Now, the question was, which features do my users actually want? By generating quick prototypes of key features and testing them with my users, I easily saw what they wanted and didn’t want before even building it. Watching the users during testing and paying attention to the feedback they give us is so valuable in helping us refine our solutions to generate meaningful impact through our designs.

One thing I noticed was that I felt I was ‘compromising’ precious time through all this testing that I had originally designated for the interface design. I wasn´t comfortable with this, but I enabled myself to understand the value of approaching my project from another angle.

Due to tight deadlines or working under pressure, some designs may not always have the ‘wow factor’ (ouch!)

As you know and as much as it hurts writing it, due to tight deadlines or working under pressure, some designs may not always have the ‘wow factor’ (ouch!). But, if you do solid research, they’re always going to have a clear purpose. I learnt the hard way that it’s better to compromise a beautiful interface than to compromise our user’s experience.

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with a variety of clients as a freelancer, at a digital agency and at a product company. What I’ve learned by understanding my target audience and by trying different methodologies is that we need to design for real people, not for ourselves.

Remember, every project is unique and we need to always begin with a discovery phase. It doesn´t matter how much potential we can see in a feature or how much we are into our design preferences if it doesn’t bring any value to our project; we need to learn to let it go. We also need to know how to spend better our time and avoid working on ideas that are not relevant for our stakeholders or for our end users.

In the end, everyone has their own design process and there’s no right or wrong. What really matters is your ability to explain the rationale behind your approach and your design decisions. You need to demonstrate how you focused on the customer value because this is what will ultimately improve the quality of your designs and this is what will pay you back with the satisfaction of your customers.