“You’re just an enabler!”
Yes. Yes, I am.
I am not an enabler that a Doctor Phil would shame on his show, an encourager of destructive behavior. I’m an enabler because I’m a user experience designer: I create software and solutions that make people more efficient and, maybe, happier.
It’s better than the Dr. Phil one.
Too many companies produce products that look great – sexy, even – but don’t bring true value to people’s lives. All sizzle, no steak. Style and gloss is important, in that it makes the product attractive. But think of diamonds – you can buy an expensive diamond necklace or a ring, or you can buy a diamond-coated drill bit to cut and shape hardened materials. Same material, but different applications – one purely for style, the other aligned to a task and factored to support what someone needs and how they work.
Good UX design provides users with drill bits, not jewelry.
How do you enable your users? You understand how they work and what they do and provide features that align and support those activities. It’s harder than it sounds.
They key, as any good UX practitioner will tell you, is research. It’s the key to success, because it lets you see what people actually DO instead of making educated guesses in a corner office. Here’s the dirty little secret I’ve found, after years of doing user research:
People aren’t THAT different.
They tend to have consistent “modes” of use. Such as…
These are common modes that users fall into – where the enablers come in is understanding how they do things in the different modes and then providing enablers that help them do the work faster, better and (maybe) cheaper.
Example: I am in Review mode of a document I need to then (enter) Approve (mode). How can you support Review mode better? Maybe with an option that takes away all the “chrome” in the UI so the user can then focus on the content he/she is reviewing. Let the user markup the content with keyboard or pen – whatever they are comfortable with. And then have easy access to a function where the information can be approved or sent back to the submitter for further review. And enable the revision process for the submitter simple and easy as well.
I used this as an example because it’s a situation I have dealt with a lot, as a writer dealing with editors. Even now, it’s still a paper-based process for many people because the technology they have doesn’t enable efficient work – it gets in the way. Paper and pen is easier because of it, but then you lose the versions and you have limited traceability. Imagine the Review and Approval Modes enhanced with technology that is as easy as pen and paper, but adds so much more context and functionality “under the covers”, available on demand, that it not only aligns with how the users work but it makes the process superior to the old way of working
That’s effective UX design. That’s designing enablers.
To me, it’s the obvious path to take in UX design. But… maybe it’s not so obvious. I still see designers creating complex hamster wheels that users have to run on to get things done, and I shake my head. Or they design portfolio pieces, instead of solutions. Looks gorgeous, but heaven help the users who try and do something with it.
So, in summary: UX designers, embrace enablers, and shout with a proud strong voice, “I’m an enabler, and I’m proud!” If you do, you will make a big different in the lives of your end users.