It Depends Why UX Is Dependent on Context

At what point in this process should we ask for the user’s email address? Well, people like this chat feature our hamburger menus bad for you X user experience professionals are sometimes criticized for a little phrase we often use. It depends when we’re asked questions you professionals will often respond with. It depends. Usually that phrase precedes a lot of follow up questions. What’s the product? What problem are we trying to solve? Who are we designing for? What’s their mental model? What are our goals? What’s the company culture? So why do we rely on this phrase so much? Well, it’s because UX is so contextual.

What works well in one situation may be terrible and another partially. That’s because we’re designing for human beings. Some things are consistent across different groups of people. For example, we all have similar limitations in our memory. So some guidelines like don’t make people carry too much information in their short term memory will stay constant and applicable to most situations. However, as human beings, lots of things can influence our behavior, our motivations, our backgrounds, our education levels or our previous experiences, for example. So what will be best for your users? Depends on who your users are. Additionally, which design works best will depend on our goals. What are we trying to achieve? Let’s take one of those questions. For example, our hamburger menus bad for you. X hamburger menus received a lot of criticism when the pattern first emerged as a trend. That’s because they hired menu items, making them less findable and less discoverable. But are they always bad? It depends. We have to ask questions to find out who are your users, what is your product, or are they a group of retirees who don’t use smartphones very often? Well, then those users may be less familiar with the pattern and the hamburger menu might be bad for their experience. Or are your users tech savvy developers who spend lots of their time on mobile devices and who might be likely to have lots of prior experience with this pattern? If so, the impact of using a hamburger menu with that group may not be all that bad. Additionally, we can ask which devices are we designing this for? Maybe this is a responsive design and the hamburger menu will only appear on smaller devices where there’s less screen space. In that case, the hamburger menu might be easier for people to find and recognize on smaller screens. So the detrimental impact to findability could be worth the advantage of conserving limited screen space design decisions almost always involve a cost benefit analysis. We’re always weighing the consequences. The contextual nature of UX design is why we warn people against blindly adopting design trends or just copying designs from totally different contexts. Just because a design is working for Apple’s e-commerce store doesn’t mean it’ll make sense for an enterprise application for accountants in product design. It’s so easy to slip into absolutes. We can say things like users hate pop ups. Well, do all users actually hate all pop ups all the time? It depends on the context. What we really mean is most users in most situations don’t like pop ups. Guidelines are rules of thumb.

They’re likely to be correct in a majority of situations, but there are always special cases. Use best practices, guidelines and patterns to inform your design decisions, but always remember to pay attention to your context. This is why research is so important for design. User research is how we answer our follow up questions and get the context we need to make decisions so we don’t just stop at it. Depends.

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