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What do you think?

A common design question that’s asked is ‘What do you think?’. A question we often ask when presenting design ideas or when the product is publicly launched. The anticipated outcome of that question is often expected to be a lateral answer, best illustrated in the diagram below:

What do you think? Like or Dislike?

But we all know that subjective design opinions are not as black and white as this. Along the spectrum are a number of complex influences that affect the outcome of the answer. One way to explore the outcome of this answer, and so to influence the approach to your design, is to ask a different question: ‘How do you think?’.

In designing user experience, user behaviour must be taken into account. But what determines a user’s behaviour? Now I’m no psychologist or sociologist, but do understand the importance of understanding user behaviour to influence design decisions.

When approaching a design decision, often the common influences are made by budget, client preferences (eg. colour), technical restraints, web trends etc. A common oversight is why the work is happening in the first place – why is the end user not using the product and making the client more money? How can we encourage the user engage more? etc.

There are lots of helpful tools to explore these questions – Personas, User Testing, Mental Models, Wireframing, User Interviews, Google Analytics and site monitoring tools etc.

However, at the heart of all these tools are not ‘What do you think’ but ‘How do you think?’

I was reminded of this again when Andy showed me a map of Russia from the Cold War era, I’d never seen Russia as a country from this perspective before. I’m very familiar with the classic landscape view of the world, even Google use it:

Google view of Russia

From this perspective it’s easy to see how, during the Cold War, Russia appears to be an imposing mass, disproportionate from it’s surrounding neighbours. However, in the perspective below, it’s easier to see the surrounding threat from all sides:

Russia perspective

Indeed, from this perspective it’s easy to see how Russia is encamped by every major continent with the exception of Australasia. From this perspective it is easier to explore decisions and expectations made, and maybe change our thinking or approach.

The challenge to us as designers, is not to get consumed with the end result to the point that we miss the very questions that start the process.We need to be looking for examples to learn how our users are thinking, what decisions they make and why?

I’ll finish with some insight from Albert Einstein:

“Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.”

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