User Experience (UX) theory and practice can be confusing for the uninitiated. This talk outlines a set of UX Axioms designers and developers alike can use to integrate UX into their practice. Erik Dahl (@eadahl) shares hard-won lessons learned from practicing UX in the real world for over 10 years. Building real products and services involves an ongoing series of design compromises. There is no ideal process or magic bullet for integrating UX or creating amazing user experiences. However, understanding and applying UX Axioms will allow you to adapt to the situation at hand and build products that resonate with and delight your end-users.


What Are People Saying

Video from Madison+UX 14

Presentation from CodeMash14

Audio Interview from The Digital Life Podcast

Read the interview transcript.

The UX Axioms

The set of UX axioms has gone through an evolution over the last year as I iterated through the concepts, refined and combined ideas. I started with 150 concepts that were combined and synthesized into an initial set of 50 axioms presented to IxDA Grand Rapids in December 2012. Over the course of 2013, I presented the UX Axioms several times and further synthesized the set down to 21 Axioms. I recently added a few more axioms to the set I felt were missing. The current set stands at 26 UX axioms. Once the axioms are finalized, I will work to produce a card deck similar to the previous Design Axioms and Health Axioms decks produced by Invo. As you go through the axioms, you may notice that several of them equally apply to how we make sense of the world and how we craft our products that are birthed into the world.

  1. It's all about people, it's not about the object
    UX design starts and ends with people. It's not everything, but designing for people should be your focus. We need to stop fetishizing the objects we create. It is in their transparency that they fulfill their function.
  2. Focus on the experience, not on the function
    We focus on a holistic approach to design. It isn't just about people completing their tasks, it is about the quality with which they do it.
  3. Stories are how we understand and shape the world
    Stories help us understand who we are in the world. They represent our values and our mental models. We need to understand the stories people tell so we can craft our own stories and our own products.
  4. Pay attention to patterns
    Patterns help us prioritize behaviors both of current and ideal experiences. We look for patterns to understand the world around us and we use patterns to craft the products and services we create.
  5. Problem finding before problem solving
    We need to make sure we are solving the right problem before we focus on a particular solution. Creativity and innovation are expressed in the problem finding as much as they are in the problem solving.
  6. Expose and challenge assumptions
    No matter how much research we do, there will always be assumptions that are made during the design process. Our role as designers is to expose these assumptions, create hypotheses to test and de-risk our solutions.
  7. Explore the big picture and the details at once
    UX design is about constantly zooming between the big picture and the details. We need to create a systematic strategy for our design work and also focus on the micro-interactions. When we change one we need to re-evaluate the other. UX design is about simultaneously attending to both the macro and the micro.
  8. Know your materiality: people, technology, business, aesthetics...
    Our work as UX designers is naturally synthetic. It's a process of boundary crossing and bridging disciplines. It's our responsibility to be literate in all the material we shape and craft.
  9. Open your eyes; don't trust what people say
    Behavior is best understood through observation. We design for people by understanding how people behave.
  10. Create models not just narratives; use frameworks
    Narratives are great, but they don't tell the whole story. We need to craft models to show relationships between objects and to tell multiple layered stories at the same time.
  11. Reframe constraints as a forcing function
    Every project contains some sort of constraints, which should be embraced and exploited. Embracing constraints can liberate and force the designer to create novel design solutions.
  12. Tame Complexity; don't simplify
    The law of conservation of complexity states that applications have inherent complexity that needs to be dealt with in product development or user interaction. Complexity provides power, but don't make people deal with a complex interface.
  13. Make non-arbitrary design decisions
    Design with purpose. You should have a rationale for every design decision you make. "Because its cool," "Because it's trendy," "Because I wanted to," "Because it's a best practice" is not good enough.
  14. Set and manage expectations
    Much of how people interact with products and services is dependent on their expectations. We need to understand, actively set, and manage people's expectations.
  15. Everything is designed and everything is a design challenge
    UX design extends well beyond the project at hand. You should craft everything from organizations to emails as carefully as you craft your products or services.
  16. Break silos; your role is bigger than you think
    UX designers do more than tactical design work. UX is about creating product strategies, bridging silos, and facilitating communication. The designer creates a space for shared understanding.
  17. Say 'yes and'; don't always assume 'either or'
    There are always creative solutions to problems and most of these can be a win-win for everyone. Accept opportunities and figure out how to make the best of them.
  18. It's about the journey, lifecycle, and transition; not just key moments
    You have to understand the entire customer journey, not just a few key moments. You have to understand how people move through interactions.
  19. Externalize your work for yourself and others
    Making your work visible allows you to externalize your working memory and make connections you couldn't otherwise make. It also allows you to more easily collaborate both passively and actively with other people.
  20. Create and close feedback loops
    Design is about creating artifacts or environments that communicate with people. UI's are like a conversation and you need to create and close feedback loops to make people feel confident.
  21. Make stuff and then kill it
    UX design should fundamentally be about making things and putting them into the world. But many of the things UX designers make are sacrificial concepts and should be used as a means to an end.
  22. Context, context, context
    It's all about the context. You need to understand the context you are designing for and the context you are creating and supporting with your design. Context drives usage.
  23. Focus on a single thing and then do it really well
    Don't be distracted or seduced by feature-creep. Focus your business and your product or service on a core benefit and over-deliver. Once you've established your core, you can extend systematically.
  24. Understand and play with emotion
    Human emotions are at the core of perception and interaction. As a UX designer you must understand emotions and how to design for emotion.
  25. Engender trust
    Trust is at the core of all human relationships and it's no different between people and your products or your brand. You always need to establish and foster trust.
  26. Collaborate with others
    UX design is not a solo sport. You need to learn to play nice with others, because they can extend your capabilities and get things done.

Questions, comments or critiques? You can reach Erik at eadahl@gmail.com or on twitter at @eadahl, #uxaxioms

Additional Resources

There are lots of resources to learn user experience design and interactions design. I've compiled a few resources to get you started.

About Erik

Erik is an independent designer. Let's work together!

He was recently the Creative Director and Principal at Involution Studios, Columbus. He founded and organizes the MidwestUX Conference, leads the local Columbus IxDA, and enjoys taking pictures of people in their side view mirrors. Erik is also on the Board of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) and the Columbus Center for Architecture and Design. His work often explores the principles of transparency, empowerment, and cultural connections between people and technology.

For Press Inquiries, Speaking Engagements, Greetings, or Collaborations write to eadahl@gmail.com.
Your can also reach Erik on twitter at @eadahl, #uxaxioms


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