It’s the little things. Well, and the really big things.
Most UX problems aren’t the middle stuff. Most folks can reasonably string together a few screens, hook up the basics of an app, and design the basic parts of a product. This is the middle – not the big strategic, hairy issues, but a bit bigger than the itty bitty details. These things, typically, aren’t tough.
Where most products separate themselves is on either end. In UX, the middle is scooped out – the big, hairy strategic issues on one side, the small, seemingly insignificant issues on the other.
The big issues are the major ones: huge strategic product problems, like how someone adopts the product, how it provides value over time, how that value changes and adapts over time, how it fits into other aspects of the user’s life, and so on. BIG, nasty, issues. The big stuff isn’t as concerned with screens – it’s about the intangibles that make up the overall experience for the user. This is hard stuff, and worth fretting over.
The small stuff is just about as important, but often overshadowed by the large and middle issues. Small things are really small. For instance, tonight, my wife was looking at hotels on a travel site. As is standard, she entered a check-in date in one date field, and then proceeded to the next field to enter the check-out date. As she clicked on that, she recoiled in disgust, saying “Oh, this stupid thing put the date back to this month! That sucks”. Obviously, she expected it would stay in the month she’d put in the check-in field – 8 months past the current date. Instead, it acted dumb, starting at the current month, instead of intelligently understanding what the user was trying to do.
Simple. Small. So important.
The small things are just about as difficult as the big, not because they’re hard strategic problems, but because there are zillions of them, and recognizing them takes interface literacy – learning, fluently, the language of those small things that make a difference.
For the big issues, you need to either have top gun UX or product strategy chops on your team, or you need to hire it in. It’s important enough. For the small issues, you need to spend time training your team in this interface literacy – getting them to recognize these small moments and build them in by default. These issues go from the calendar defaults, to error messaging and to form labeling. They’re everywhere.
So, don’t be fooled by the middle. The meat of UX is at either end – the big, hairy, strategic experience stuff, and the itty bitty details that make the experience tick. Take care of those, and you’ll be golden.
[Postscript: It just occurred to me that the "scoops out the middle" phrase may not be familiar to all readers. This refers to audio engineering, where "scooping out the middle" means using EQ to pull out all the mid range frequencies, only leaving the high and low frequencies. -JD]