In a conversation about the importance of User Experience in times of Big Data with Sebastian Ullherr, Creative Director at interfacewerk:
What do you understand by User Experience (UX)?
User Experience (UX) is a term in software development and goes way beyond User Interfache Design (UI), the design method established in our industry at the moment. While UI designs aims at solving the problem as easily as possible UX asks the question how well the software will be able to solve a problem in the real world. That is why UX designers often are also product designers as they have to ask the question who will use the product and which problem should be solved by it. Usability is therefore a part of UX because only user-friendly solutions can solve problems efficiently.
UX makes sure that software does something for people
Why is UX so important?
The success of our software depends on how well it solves a problem in the real world. The UX designer makes sure that the software meets its requirements with an effective feedback cycle. But above all the UX designer ensures that the software does something for people. For this reason the UX designer often is a mediator between business and user interests.
Which importance does UX have in times of Big Data?
Big Data changes the way in which to deal with data. Data has to be processed in an organised way so that people can make good decisions, as users aren’t interested in data per se, but in getting a valid basis of decision-making. Therefore the task of a UX designer is it to be an intermediary between complex methods of analysis and the application in the real world. To be precise, this means that in a first step analysis data is made available for the users. The second step consists in making this analysis understandable for the user. This means that domain experts from all kinds of disciplines also know what to make of the information and thus can use them for their decisions in a third step.
Process data in such a way that it is a basis for good decision – a big stumbling block for a lot of Big Data companies
A lot of Big Data companies fail exactly because of this issue. They are incapable of making their results understandable in a way so that they can be used to increase the turnover or profit.
How does this affect your work? What do you have to consider additionally?
A lot of designers think that user interfaces have to be as simple as possible. This only applies to Big Data software in a restricted way as analyses are very complex these days and if they can be performed too quickly and easily the results are often faulty. Therefore it is important in User Experience design to make the users think at exactly the correct steps and make sure that the users make good decisions even while processing the data.
This is also why our main task often is to listen very closely. We have to listen and watch closely to understand which problems have to be solved. Often we have to recognize the obvious which others don’t see and name it to find the solution.
UX makes users and their behaviour computable
Which objectives do you follow while designing a new user interface in times of Big Data?
Our main objective is to enable people to make good decisions, which lead to the success of a company. To ensure this we use the principle of iteration, which means that we make a reality match/check with our customers. We build complex software that makes complex analyses and have to make sure again and again that our development is on track. The result how users will use software are not predictable. This is the reason why UX, which deals with/grapples this problem gains momentum.
How do you proceed while designing your software? How do work together with your clients?
We work with clients for whom clear user interfaces and a good user experience is as important as for us. This is especially important as programming in UX design is no standardized, but an iterative process. We work very closely with our customers, make reality checks and integrate ourselves in their processes. While working with our clients we play the role of an intermediary between the business interests of the entrepreneur and the user interests. We have to know and understand thoroughly how the users think. Users tick in completely different ways, but there are quite a few conventions how understandable user interfaces ought to look like. The challenge is to find the correct convention for the correct user circle and invent new conventions.
“Our goal – software that adapts to the users, not vice versa”
Psychology gets a more and more important role in this line of work. It is not only about programming any longer, but also about understanding people. This makes the role of a UX designer very exciting, as we work in close contact with people and in the end make sure that they understand the results and can integrate them successfully into their everyday work. Our declared aim is that the user doesn’t adapt to the software, but the software to the user.
How do you ensure that you get the desired result?
Basically we use three different tools. We make field studies to see what the customers really need and conduct interviews to understand how they think/tick. At the end of the process we make a usability test. For this we get the feedback of real users. It is very difficult to find the fitting users for a specific application, but the effort is worth it. We often have the advantage that we work directly with our clients. For other cases we have built up a big network from which we can recruit the suitable users. Often only 3-5 users suffice to understand what works and what doesn’t. For this we watch the behaviour of the users with a camera and ask them to think loudly. Using the results of these observations we adjust the software. To develop a feature that works for the user three or four iterations of this process already suffice most of the times.
After 8 years of experience in the start-up scene and after founding a few start-up companies Sebastian has launched the UX Degn Studio interfacewerk together with Moritz Türck to make software more understandable.