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Thoughts from KMC

What 2016 Pop Culture Taught Me About UX Design (& why the user is still king)

Makaziwe Qobo

October 2017

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At KMC we’re serious about Agile. But we’re not all serious, all the time. Like this tongue-in-cheek look our UX Designer, Makaziwe Qobo, prepared for one of our recent Lunch and Learn – a interactive opportunity to share our learnings, highlight innovation in the industry, get feedback from our peers and just have a generally (nerdy) good time.

Pop culture tells you a lot about the thoughts, attitudes and perspectives of a civilisation. It is ever-changing and influenced by trends, the economy and world happenings. UX (User experience) Design encompasses designing a system or product with the maximum user satisfaction without sacrificing business goals.

And in UX, as in life, there are a few time-told principles that apply if you want to make sure you are designing systems that users will, well, use:

Local Municipal Elections - Lesson: Don't be complacent.

Who can forget the ruling party, the ANC's, brazen ASINAVALO ("We are not scared") campaign during the 2016 elections? Only to be stumped by the slurry of lost major municipalities.

The takeaway? Your users are unique. You might know what they wanted last year, but have you done your research to find out what they want today? Every bright idea has a sell-by date and if yours is two years from now, your brand-new system will be old news faster than you can say 'Nokia'.

Serge Cabonge - Lesson: Don't trick your users

Mr. Cabonge appeared on a popular investigative journalism television show, where he bared all about his part in the "blesser" phenomenon. Serge boasted about how he gifted young women expensive gifts and cash in return for sexual favours. Before Serge's appearance on TV, such transparency about how blessers operate was unheard of.

The takeaway? Your users are not stupid. Be honest with them and let them know what to expect upfront. Design equals trust. And if you lose trust, you have lost users forever. Don't rely on 'Dark Patterns' to trick your users into doing things they don't want to (buy insurance, upgrade, subscribe to your newsletter), it won't take them long to figure it out they're being used. Yes, be clever in the way you influence user behaviour - you must - but if you're doing so by tricking them, be prepared for an exodus.

Pokemon Go, Snapchat and AR - Lesson: Enhance existing user interaction

2016 saw a few bank balances getting healthier, thanks to the gamification genius of Pokemon Go, Snapchat and various AR games which made for a rich interaction with technology.

The takeaway? Here, context-based design is key. You have to build the interaction in the same context in which the user is based. This can be done by, for example, using their own photo, or their suburb or their home language

Thoko Didiza Saga - Lesson: Know what your users want (or don't want)

When competent politician, Thoko Didiza, was put forward as the choice for mayoral candidate for Tshwane during the election, violent protests broke out. Why? Because she was originally from KwaZulu-Natal and not from Tshwane.

The takeaway? One size does not always fit all. Make sure that the problem you’re solving is a real problem that your users need solved. This, in the truly agile sense, means that you need to talk to your users or subject matter experts often, testing, researching and never assuming.

Melania Trump, the First Lady - Lesson: UX design is not just decoration

Aah, the final member of our list is the current first lady of the United States of America. Despite her beauty, she was no match for the former first lady. Granted, she had a tough act to follow. Michelle Obama is a qualified lawyer with education from Princeton and Harvard. Melania boasted a 24-year modeling career.

The takeaway? Form and function don't work independently. They have to work together to solve a user's problem. KMC’s Liandra Bassiane spoke at Agile Africa 2017 recently about the myth that UX's purpose is to 'make things look pretty'. UX (and all design) is more about how something works than how it looks. Sites like Craiglist might not be attractive, but served 60 million users in 2016.

Summary: When it comes to UX Design, the user is king. Failure to admit this is tantamount to professional suicide. To recap:

  • Don't be complacent
  • Don't trick your users
  • Enhance user interaction
  • Know what your users do (or don't) want and
  • UX design is not just for decoration

Bottom line? For any system, app or software to work, it needs users. Lots of them. And the only way to get and keep them is through offering them a decent user experience. Design Thinking and Agile delivery practices have a deep appreciation for the user and designing and experience that the user will enjoy to such an extent that they not only adopt the new system, software or app, but that they return to it time and time again. With good UX, your solution will become as ingrained in the mind of your user as pop culture is ingrained in the fabric of daily life...

Makaziwe Qobo