Response to Homework #4: I’m a technical communicator. Why should I care about UX?

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I’m a technical communicator. Why should I care about UX?

UX is a very emergent term within technical communication, and I was worried that this module would fall flat because of that.

Let me just summarize why you told me we should care about UX, in your posts and homework responses: because technical communicators are beginning to craft experiences for users, not just documents for readers.

Isn’t UX just usability?

A lot of people ask me this, so I thought I’d speak to this as well. Here’s a representative definition of usability:

Usability is a tool that assesses the ease-of-use of user interfaces, based on its learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors, and satisfaction. Usability isa basic need for organizations. – Gabriella

When we contrast this definition with the more comprehensive one,
we see the problem:

User Experience Design refers to a comprehensive concept as well as a process that examines whether end users interact with a system the way they are intended to. User feedback is a major tenet of UX. User Experience Design is both an art and a science. It is comprised of many parts, such as language, graphics, sound, motion, information, interface interaction, and programming, that all are supposed to work seamlessly as a whole to meet both user’s needs, desires, and goals as well as the publishing organization’s needs, desires and goals. – Gergana

People mistake a part for a whole when they conflate usability with UX. UX is the entire experience a user has, and usability is one aspect of that experience.

Okay, I get it. How should I care about UX?

Hopefully this homework assignment did give you a kind of tool kit for thinking about UX beyond this assignment, and even beyond this class.

Here are some of the individual tools in that toolkit.

  • Conducting a Usability Review

A usability review is an analysis of a website or application that utilizes a persona of the typical user to determine if critical tasks can be completed to achieve the desired goal or outcome of the organization or individual that owns the site. This review provides clients/owners with valuable information that can be used to improve the UX of the site and make it more successful.

  • Wireframing

Wireframing is a very simple method of demonstrating a site’s layout and functionality. By eliminating images, color, graphics, and other styling, it helps designers focus on the ‘bare-bones’ aspects of a site and its space allocation, prioritization of content, functionality, and intended behaviors. It is useful in the UX process because it provides designers with the ability to analyze features of the site for successful navigation and content elements and determine if changes are needed to improve space allocation and content hierarchy. Wireframing can be conducted in low-fi or hi-fi to provide a lower or higher level of detail, with low-fi being a quick and abstract method and high-fi being more detailed and documentable.

  • Card Sorting

Open and closed card sorting is a method of research that provides the designer with an opportunity to gather input from users about how they sort and organize topics and content on a webpage. It can be done with either a paper or computer application, individually or in groups, an in an open or closed sort. An open sort gives the researcher data on how a user categorizes information, and a closed sort provides data on how a user determines which category the information belongs in. This helps the UX process by incorporating user input into the design of the site and aligning it to user expectations and needs.

  • Field Study (before starting the design)

This method of research provides a designer with the opportunity to study users in their own environment and make observations of their behavior when performing the activities that are part of the design. Conducting a field study prior to the design process gives the designer the potential ability to discover valuable innovations for the UX design but can be costly, since there is no actual testing of the design in this method. Changes that have to made after the design is implemented are more expensive than those made early in the design process.

  • Testing a Low-Fi Prototype

This method of research is early in the design process, but after it has begun. It gives the designer the opportunity to test the design on an inexpensive prototype and integrate user input into changes before the design is completed and implemented. Low-fi prototype testing gives the designer the advantage of usability testing without the higher cost that can result when testing to validate a design, since changes made at the prototype stage are less expensive.

Accessibility and including users in your design process

Universal design is considering accessibility and having more than one purpose. Accessibility is more than coding and involves everyone involved in making the website work. Some of the examples improving the user experience are keyboard use, color contrast, and audio video quality. – Jennifer

One of the key things I’d like you get from this homework assignment and module is that if you don’t have real, live users involved with your design process, you are designing in a vacuum. You have no way of knowing how actual people are going to respond to your design unless you get their input. This includes folks with disabilities, who are notoriously excluded from design processes.

I’m not saying you should specifically recruit users who are disabled, but I am saying you should cast your net broadly when recruiting users, and should do everything in your power to make sure folks with disabilities are a representative part of that recruited population.

From UX methods to UX strategy and from use to participation

Business design is a description of how a business works and what process it performs. Business modeling involves defining the customer and their goals, building the map of the business process, and creating the use-cases from these steps. This will help to guide an organization’s improvements through a structured workflow. – Christina

Beyond individual methods, UX experts are beginning to talk about an overall strategy for crafting a digital experience, and how individual methods should fit into that overall strategy. One thing most experts agree on right now is that users should be as substantive a part of the design process as possible, and thus should be thought of as participants, not just end-users.

One thing is for certain: UX is not going away anytime soon. It has stood the test of time through its evolution from usability engineering to UX strategy and more and more businesses, non-profits, and schools are discovering its power. The more you can learn about it, the more marketable you will become as a communications professional.

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