5 pieces of UX design advice from the world's greatest inventors and artists

By Spencer Lanoue | June 24, 2015
5 Pieces of UX Design Advice from the World's Greatest Inventors & Artists

Art and humanities students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from studying the masters, UX designers can learn from them too. Even though the UX field is relatively new, people have been designing incredible things for thousands of years.

We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Instead, we can learn from those who have come before us. Here are 5 pieces of advice from some of the greatest artists, designers, and innovators of all time.

1. Discover where your users are currently unsatisfied


Discontent is the first necessity of designing products, sites, and apps that users love. Let me explain. When users are unsatisfied with the current options in the market, it means there’s an opportunity to fill their unmet needs.

Edison’s advice also applies to improving the UX of an existing product. The starting place for improving your user experience is to discover where your users are currently unsatisfied.

  • What doesn’t work as well as they’d like?
  • Where do they get confused, frustrated, or annoyed?
  • What is it about the current design that isn’t meeting their needs?

And you can even take it a step further. What is the core problem that users are trying to solve with your product? If your users could wave a magic wand and have their perfect solution, what would it be?

2. Design based on customer insights, not your own opinion


There’s one fundamental truth that will serve you well to remember: You are not your user.

That means you can’t answer the questions above by yourself or by brainstorming with your team. No matter how accurate you think your answers are, they’re still just your opinion. They’re educated guesses, and they need to be tested through objective experimentation.

Designing based on your personal opinion is like a scientist publishing theories without testing their hypothesis. Without testing their guesses, scientists would make critical errors and misjudgments. The same goes for designers and anyone building products. If you’re not testing your design and consistently getting feedback from real users, you’re going to make mistakes that could’ve been avoided.

Instead of designing based on your own opinion, get user feedback as early and often as possible. You don’t have to wait until you have a finished product. You can get feedback on:

  • Rough sketches
  • Wireframes
  • Low Fidelity Prototypes
  • High Fidelity Prototypes

Observe your target audience using your product, and ask them questions about their experience as they go. Do whatever you can to get user feedback: customer interviews, in lab testing, card sorting, tree testing, remote usability testing, etc—because as Da Vinci said, the greatest deception you suffer is from your own opinion.

3. Pursue continual growth, learning and progress


Once you test your hypothesis (by observing how real users interact with your product) and make adjustments based on what you learn, you can’t just stop. There’s no one-size-fits-all UX strategy that works for every company, and anybody who tells you otherwise is wrong. It needs to be customized for your product, business model, and the unique value you deliver to your users.

You’ll never figure out the “best” design, either. The effectiveness of all tactics decrease over time. The way people interact with technology is changing extremely fast, and the rate of change is accelerating. That means if you want to stay ahead of the curve, you need to be testing consistently and improving all the time. What you need is an effective experimentation process to figure out what works best for your audience, customer journey, and business model.

4. Eliminate unnecessary complexity in your design


In order to design great experiences, you have to be a champion for your user’s needs—cutting away everything that isn’t necessary and focusing on the 20% of features that gets your users 80% of their results.

Other great thinkers throughout history have echoed the same sentiment. Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” And in 1657, French physicist and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote in a letter to his friend: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

In order to communicate a complex topic in simple terms, you need to understand it from the inside out. And if you want to design experiences that are simple and easy to use, you need to understand your users just as deeply.

Simplicity also requires you to think critically about which features and design elements meet your user’s needs, and ruthlessly eliminate everything that doesn’t add value. You can always add more features once your users express a need for them. But true art requires the ability to eliminate everything that’s unnecessary and leave only what’s most important for your users to get the results they want.

5. Solve for a need that already exists in the market


Like a sculptor, your task as a designer is to solve for the need that’s already there. Every audience has specific:

  • Problems and needs
  • Hopes, dreams, and fears
  • Customer journey
  • Expectations
  • Intent

Get into your user’s head and understand what makes them tick, what their needs are, and in what context they use your product.

Once you’ve done that, the challenge is to craft a simple, intuitive solution that solves their problem, meets their need, and gives them the result they’re seeking. And if you do that in a way that’s easy to use and pleasing to the end-user, you may have a masterpiece on your hands.

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About the author(s)
Spencer Lanoue

Spencer Lanoue is a marketer who helps UX designers, PMs, and marketers make things people want.