The Hero of the Story

What do you think of when you think “User Experience”? I bet it’s “less clicks” or “fewer clicks” or even potentially “as few clicks as possible”. That’s not entirely wrong, but as UX professionals struggle to evangelize their practice it has become an easy byline for the work we do. Shortening the number of interaction layers for a user to get to an action is an easily quantifiable metric to explain to people who aren’t familiar with what a UX professional does. But are we doing ourselves a disservice by falling back on this tried and true example? I’m willing to say that we are.

If anything, we’re setting ourselves up for failure when the time comes that the best practice to implement might not be the one with the fewest clicks. That phrase might have given some people pause–but think about it for a moment. Sometimes the obfuscation of data is important to the overall design and usability of a product. When I say “design” I’m not talking about the visual design (the mangling of the User Experience for the sake of a better visual design is a topic for another day), but instead the actual architectural design of the application. When I find myself proposing a design that had to take an information-dense workflow and pare it down to something more friendly and manageable, I often also find myself defending design decisions that might have added additional “clicks” to the process. This might truly be one of the bigger challenges we face in the post-Web 2.0 world of user experience.

To reference my opening question–someone once explained to me that the challenge of being a good UX professional is that your contributions are often transparent. You may work hard for changes to be made to the workflow or for the addition of specific features but, at the end of the day, if you’ve done your job correctly the user will have such a seamless experience it will seem as though you aren’t there. This type of success can often be a double-edged sword in situations where your direct interaction with your users are abstracted, but it is the best kind of problem to have. When you combine all of these threads, in this way User Experience becomes about carefully crafting a story for the user to star in (after all, in the midst of a good story you might often forget who the author is). The experience should be so tailored to them that they feel like the star–the real hero–of the entire narrative. Keep that in mind when you’re in the weeds dealing with fringe case scenarios and system limitations–it all circles back to the narrative. Is your decision empowering the user, or slowly pushing them by the wayside?

I touched on a lot of varying topics in this post that I hope to go into further detail later on in the future. Until then, don’t stop gunning for the hero.

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