The UX Designer

UX designer in action
Image by Firmbee from Pixabay

People tend to focus on the aspect of UX that concerns interface design – the layout of interface components on a screen (messages, buttons, images etc.) and the sequences of options presented through interfaces (workflows). In his 1998 book The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman argued for a renewed focus on simple functionality that affords the actions that the user wants to take, organised and sequences according to the mental model in the user’s mind, and constrained to reduce complexity of choice and simplify process. This is the view part of the model-view-controller pattern that most software is designed around. It makes sense of software for people and makes it usable. Such functional design approaches aim to reduce extraneous cognitive load (Sweller, Ayres & Kalyuga, 2011). In his book Don’t Make Me Think (2000), Steve Krug describes this approach and how it favours simplicity over unnecessary complexity – programmers like that too.

In Digital Humanities projects, the complexity of our data models, data relationships, and processes means we need to be especially careful to design interfaces well (or if using existing software, arrange things to match straightforward, obvious, shared mental models). In everyday practice, even using good names for data artefacts helps with the user experience (including when we are designing things for our own use, make sure names are meaningful, memorable, and not misleading). When working in a team, being clear about mental models, naming conventions etc. should be attended to by everyone. Ideally clarity should be achieved without the need for documentation or training activities, although this is not always possible. We can at least make it easier for new people to pick up our models and practices quickly.

In a later book on Emotional Design (2003), Norman extended his view of what counts as good UX design. To the behavioural dimension (getting tasks done efficiently) he added the visceral dimension (how it feels immediately, before conscious consideration, the sensation of using a system) and the reflective dimension (how it makes us feel about ourselves, our value, our status). These extra dimensions are powerful but often subtle influences, leading to people sticking with a product rather than using it once and moving on. A surprising amount of time and effort is put into the visual look and feel of websites. It matters. But we have to be conscious of how much it matters, how important we think it is for us and other researchers, as well as the rest of the team (your programmers may want to show off cool looking products, for example).

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