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The 7 Best Things We Learned From 9 UX Experts

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The first week in November brought leaves crunching under our feet, dreams of soon-to-be-eaten turkey, and two special Vitamin T Put it to the Panel UX events. In November, we hosted 150 people in Chicago and Los Angeles to find out the latest in experience design, AI, design innovation, voice integration, data, and what’s next for UX, from the field’s top practitioners at the NFL, Ticketmaster, Expedia Group, CSG International, NEXT/NOW, ADP Innovation Lab, Voting Solutions for All People @Smartmatic, Altruist, and ShopRunner. We learned so much from our expert panelists that we just had to share.

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1. Get to the question behind the question

If you’re a UX designer, you typically don’t work with the end user. You’re likely working at an agency or in-house or contracting for a specific job. So, you probably don’t have access to the ultimate decision makers: the customers. Our experts encourage you to hunt down the information that might help you do your job better—see if there’s a data department, if the company has done any surveys, or check in with customer service.

“The challenge is to get to the relationship. Get to the right info at the right time,” says John Fitch, User Experience Lead at CSG International. “Find key people and convince them to provide key contacts.”

Mark Matthews, Marketing Strategist for NEXT/NOW, calls this getting to the question behind the question. “Use design thinking to look at how people use this stuff, react, and then design from there.” Margo Dear, Senior Director of User Experience for ADP Innovation Lab, says that “designers have to speak the language of business.”

Rob Simon, Principal User Experience Designer at Altruist, refers to it as creating the role of Director of Trust. “Because if your customer can’t trust you, then you won’t succeed.”

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2. Don’t get too caught up in the design to allow room for possibilities

Which leads us to our next nugget: stay flexible. As you’re going through the creative process, don’t get so completely tied to your original idea that you exclude a more valuable option. For example, maybe you have an idea for a way to organize information on the page but when you actually start designing, you realize that instead of grouping by icon or color, it makes more sense to group by content. Or maybe you just want to tease the content and link to a page that deep dives. Maybe a hamburger menu looks better visually, but a sticky persistent navigation makes more sense. Don’t be afraid to let go of your original direction. As you progress, make sure the flow of the page makes sense. Not just aesthetically, but from a UX perspective and a customer perspective.

Fitch advises to “focus on the design framework itself, instead of all the mockups. That can create opportunity for things to surface that you didn’t know about.”

3. You don’t have to be a coder but…

There’s an ongoing debate whether UX designers should be required to code. Some believe that you should know how to build your design to make sure it’s possible. Others believe that coding is not a designer’s job. The panel agrees that coding shouldn’t be mandatory for UXers, but many feel that having a familiarity with front end development could be very valuable for communicating your vision.

Simon says, “You don’t have to know how to code as a designer, but you do need to understand and design how things work. The lesson that I learned in my career is to talk to the developers first. There is always a trade off.”

4. Know brands that do it right

When you get a bunch of UX bigwigs together in a room, an audience member is sure to ask them what company is doing user experience right, right now. Marie Faulkner Lietz, Director of UX at Expedia Group, is admiring Google Home, which can not only do things like tell you the weather, but also what you should wear that day.

Fitch is all about the gamified apps, like the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge that’s customized based on player details like location. Per Fitch, “the coolest thing is when the player actually becomes part of the story instead of sitting on the sidelines.”

Sonos sticks out to John DeSouza, Product Design Manager at ShopRunner, for the way they are aggregating and compiling music based on the way you’re feeling at that time.

5. To data or not to data, that is the question

Gathering data and the ethics of using that data are big topics. Some like Faulkner Lietz feel that we can use data to tell a better story, what she calls “an evidence-based design process.” Matthews agrees, saying “it doesn’t matter what you think, without the data you’re just guessing.” Others caution that bad data can actually influence your designs in a negative way.

And Jon Fox, Experience Design Lead at Smartmatic, drops wisdom from his role in developing the new voting machines. The key is ensuring you have a big enough and diverse enough sample size to give you data that you can actually use to make informed decisions.

6. Humans will never be out of a job

What does the panel think about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it will cater to users in meaningful ways? Matthews explains how giving every user a personal experience has become important, like with Pandora, which can develop a customized playlist for you based on what you’ve listened to and Thumbs Upped in the past. Faulkner Lietz cites hotel searches and how all the properties want to know the algorithms behind getting a hotel to the top of the list. It’s super helpful to know, for example, that adding photos will bump you up in the search results.

But DeSouza brings it back to reality: “AI and robots do a good job at making our lives easier, but robots and AI can’t invent ‘the next best thing’ with the human interface in mind. There’s a human experience that’s required for the UX design process. How do you design for the human element?”

Arshad Wala, Director of Special Projects UX/VR/AI, National Football League, echoes that sentiment saying, “We have to focus on the human problem.”

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7. The future of UX

Of course, we’re always curious about what’s next. Fox, who is helping design Los Angeles County’s Voting-Anywhere Centers (to replace traditional polling locations) believes the technology of AI, along with AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), and MR (mixed reality), can be used to create and imagine products in a future that doesn’t exist right now. Wala agrees it will free designers from the shackles of limitations they might have in their current roles or imaginations. And Kathryn Campbell, Director, Research & Insights, Ticketmaster, points out “things change very quickly. The nomenclature of what you do is always going to change.”

DeSouza discusses Apple’s upcoming AR headset, which he calls AR in a “usable form”. Right now he says, “UX is how to navigate through technology on this particular website. Soon it’s going to be how do I navigate through the world—there will be elements of experience and theater.”

And what could potentially hold UX back from future domination? “We overcomplicate the situation,” according to Fitch. “Keep it simple, stupid, remember that.” What a perfect note to wrap on.

Craving more? If you haven’t already, follow #PITTP on Twitter to learn about our upcoming Put it to the Panel events! And if even if you can’t join us, we’ll make sure to pass along the best nuggets.

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