The U in UX

August 16, 2021

Unlike solving problems in an exam paper, building a product starts with defining a problem worth solving. Problems can come from pain points that we endure going through our quotidian life. Or, they can be astute observations of obstacles that people around us encounter. Some issues might seem mundane, while others have half-decent, duct tape solutions(a better analogy nowadays is a combination of Excel, Google Docs, and Whatsapp). I will be elaborating on three lessons I have learned in the recent UIUX workshop, in terms of product ideation and validation.

The first key lesson that I learned from the workshop (on Beauty is more than skin deep) is to be wary of bad ideas. We want to build something that stands out from existing competitions. We want mass adoption from human beings who have an innate tendency to prefer stability over change. If the above is true, we need to be able to answer the following: Is the problem that we are describing real? Does the proposed solution solve it? It’s easy to see the relevance of the first question. During the workshop, we had a group proposing a product idea to help students find mentors easily. Critical response from the audience was how that product would provide utility to people who avail themselves as mentors. Assuming that the product does help their target users(students), it lacked the consideration of another significant group of involved parties(potential mentors). To go deeper into the above example, the proposed solution might not effectively address an inherent issue at hand: perhaps there’s a lack of motivated mentors?

My second learning point is on making a product that offers better solutions. I would like to share an anecdote that resonates with the content of the workshop. I was reading blog posts by Kent C. Dodds (a software engineer and OSS educator) and came across his open-source project named “split-guide”. It is a tool to help generate code for his workshops. Quoting the problem and the proposed solution highlighted in the repository’s Readme for context:

Problem: Managing workshop repositories. A great way to do a workshop repo is to have exercises and exercises-final directories. The problem is keeping these two directories in sync. Solution: This allows you to create a template for both of these in a templates directory. Based on special text in these files, you can specify what parts of the file you want in exercises and exercises-final. This allows you to co-locate what you’re going to be showing workshop attendees and what the final answer should be.

Having done many coding tutorials, I can see why managing workshop repositories can be a pain. However, it turned out that “split-guide” is no longer maintained. In the latest Pull Request (https://github.com/kentcdodds/split-guide/pull/24), Kent remarked that he thought the solution was neat but complex. The better solution/alternative that Kent settled for? “copy/paste/modify”. This is such an apt illustration of how a solution that has more friction can go south.

The last point is on the importance of user validation. A surprising fact that I got out of the UX critique session is how much we can gain from iterations with a simple design and a group of target users poking at it. Feedback from users can guide us in making design choices that meet the eye and lead users down the intended happy path. One of the more striking comments that I remembered from the session was that users might not appreciate the sophisticated algorithms underneath if they are not motivated to use the product.

P.S. This is repost of my writing assignment for CS3216.



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Written by Liu Yongliang who lives in Singapore. Also on Dev.to, LinkedIn, GitHub

© Copyright 2022 Liu Yongliang