For anyone looking to get into User Experience, I can’t recommend enough that you read Jesse James Garret’s book The Elements of User Experience. It provides a great framework for thinking about design and gives you a structured rationale and toolkit to deal with just about anything. This is the book you read to find out just how little you actually know about UX, and what those gaps are. Jesse takes the idea that the customer is always right and shows you concisely how to find out how to fulfil your users wants, needs and goals – even if they don’t know them yet.

I’m going to focus on the main takeaways I had when reading this book.

Websites are complicated pieces of technology and something funny happens when people have trouble using complicated pieces of technology: They blame themselves. They feel like they must have done something wrong. They feel like they weren’t paying enough attention. They feel stupid. Jesse James Garrett

Don’t make me feel stupid.

Regardless of your level of intellect, everyone wants to feel smart. Nobody likes feeling frustration just because they don’t quite get it. On top of that, very few people actually feel comfortable seeking out help when they don’t understand something. If someone has a problem with your website or product, there’s a good chance they’ll just quit.

Tell your marketing colleague you can double the number of users they get per marketing dollar spent and watch their eyes light up. They instantly want to know more. Well, look no further, good UX will do that exactly that.

Do user research, install and religiously track analytics, figure out the pain points your users are experiencing and squish every single one. It’s very easy for us as practicing professionals who live and breathe this stuff to know what we intended a user to understand by a specific flow or design, but we aren’t designing for ourselves. Take a step back, look at things through another set of eyes and ask yourself if you’re really being as clear as you first thought. The person you made feel stupid just left your website. I doubt they’ll be back.

The dichotomy within UX.

We have a double-edged relationship with the products and services we use. They empower us and frustrate us; they simplify and complicate our lives; they separate us and bring us closer together. Jesse James Garrett

To me, this conjures up the idea that UX design is not just about removing frustration, but empowering the user. I love being able to think about a design problem from both of these directions, as it gives me wildly different solutions. If you focus on only delighting a user, or giving them as much freedom to complete a task as possible, you might end up with a frustration free product – but will it be as

Similarly, if you play whack-a-mole with frustrations, your product might not be as fun or engaging to use, despite being both clean and well designed.

Working from both ends of the puzzle, you have a much stronger resultant product.

5 Elements to rule them all.

Creating the user experience is really little more than a very large collection of very small problems to be solved.

This, I feel, is the most important point in the book. Anyone can do this, you just need to get into the right mindset, take a step by step approach and keep solving problems till nothing’s left. To a lot of people design, art or any sort of creative endeavor requires an innate talent or certain je ne sais quoi, but it’s really much simpler than that. You can do this too. Right now.

While the focus of this book is really about the design of digital products such as website or mobile applications, but what this book is really presenting is a framework for thinking about design that’s really applicable to designing anything.

Jesse breaks UX down into five elements (I know, right?): Surface, Skeleton, Structure, Scope and Strategy and teaches us that each of these elements builds and improves on the other.

  • Surface: A series of pages, made up of images and text.
  • Skeleton: The placement of components within the pages, such as buttons, text and images.
  • Structure: A concrete expression of the abstract structure of the site. The ‘how do users get here’ understanding of flow and relation.
  • Scope: The definition of how these components interact with each other.
  • Strategy: The purpose of the design. What is your goal and the goals of your users.

The trick here is just how to tie all of this together and actually build something great. Seeing beyond the surface element (or as we might’ve called prior to reading this book: visual design) and understanding that UX is just so much more than shiney bells and twirly whistles.

Good UX requires a holistic approach that is very well described in this book and I’d recommend anyone that’s serious about building anything that another person is going to interact with read this book and take the wisdom to heart.