Soup.io talked with Dipanwita “Dipa” Dasgupta, a leading UX Researcher about the nature of UX today and the increased importance of UX due to the ubiquity of social media platforms and online services, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic situation.
Dasgupta completes extensive research to better understand what users want and present those findings to the teams she’s working with.
Dasgupta’s employer, a major Silicon Valley-based social media giant, relies extensively on her research to make educated decisions regarding key consumer-facing products.
Though her employer and specific projects she’s worked on must remain unnamed due to an NDA, Dasgupta was nice enough to share with Soup.io unique insight on what makes great, not just good, UX.
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The backbone of solid user experience
This is the backbone of good UX: knowing what needs to be added and what needs to be taken away in order for large numbers of users to better enjoy their interactions with a specific platform.
If you’re completely new to the concept of UX, we will provide a brief explanation here.
Most members of the general public are at least familiar with UI, which stands for User Interface. UI consists of all the elements that make up the front-facing side of a platform or online service.
It includes the visuals, the color palette used, the shapes of clickable buttons, and many other details that most users are not immediately aware of.
The most basic goal of UI is to provide users with clear indications of different options and features.
While UX is closely related to UI, it is a distinct concept. Short for User Experience, UX is all about the way users feel about their interactions with a platform.
While the specifics of UI can contribute to UX, there are also many other factors at play, including a user’s preconceptions about a particular brand and the ways in which those preconceptions are either confirmed or challenged by their interactions with that brand’s products.
Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s dig further down into the topic of UX and see what Dasgupta had to say about the subject, based on years’ worth of extensive industry experience.
Tech’s unique position
For UX researchers, data is crucial. If you don’t have significant feedback from users, it will be extremely difficult to make improvements.
But as one of the first major social media platforms, Dasgupta’s company has more than a decade’s worth of data and detailed user feedback, all of which helps a great deal when researchers like Dasgupta are looking to make improvements.
However, as Dasgupta was quick to point out, awareness of users’ feelings isn’t limited to interactions with the platform. The app she works on is also very careful to keep pace with how its many, many users feel toward the brand as a whole.
“We’re well-positioned to understand UX and user needs as there is a heavy investment in understanding users, not just limited to UI experience but really how they feel about big-picture concepts.”
With this broad range of information, Twitter, Snap Inc., Facebook, and other major brands can identify persistent problems with pinpoint precision and work to correct them.
For smaller brands, it’s not only possible but advisable to strive for a similar understanding of their users. Only with this information can intelligent UX decisions be made.
Experience is the best teacher
As for individual UX professionals, there’s always more to be learned, even for experts like Dasgupta.
Dasgupta explained that her professional experience has helped her learn and integrate some very important concepts into her work.
“When I started doing research ten years ago in grad school, I didn’t know how design philosophy related to UX. One thing I’ve realized is that it’s so important to always look at the big picture and have solid, specific research goals at the beginning.”
This certainly doesn’t devalue UX education programs, but it is an important point for UX hopefuls to keep in mind.
There is plenty to learn about UX outside of a professional environment, but there should always be room left for additional information that can only come from being on the job.
An increase in the importance of platform UX
There’s no doubt that UX is always important. If you’ve ever spent more than five minutes on a website with unclear features and missing information, then you know this all too well.
But during this year in particular, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, UX has become even more important because the platforms we use are themselves more crucial to daily life, especially within careers that need these platforms to survive right now.
“With COVID-19, people are increasingly using online platforms to stay connected and voice their opinions. There has also been a trend of certain professionals like musicians, gym instructors, and small businesses hosting live shows on these platforms to sustain their careers.”
Imagine that you’re a musician who wants to host a virtual live show to bring in some extra money.
While you would have several options available to you for hosting event, your decision will likely come down to which platform provides you with the most positive user experience.
The following video is a very interesting example of UX in action.
It was found that Zoom and its built-in features were not well-suited to this artist’s style of music. After such an experience, do you think the artist will continue to use that platform in the future?
There is a significant opportunity for different platforms to cater their services to specific groups of professionals.
This is just a small example of the overwhelming importance of UX right now, when the internet is the primary means of communication and entertainment for so many.
Leading UX brands
While we’re on the topic of effective UX and how it can be achieved, let’s also take a look at brands that Dasgupta feels are helping to lead the way in terms of elegant UX.
“I really like Instagram and Airbnb’s interface. Airbnb, in particular, is known to introduce new design patterns and has a very talented group of designers.”
If you spend even just a few minutes on either of these platforms, it will be easy to see why Dasgupta views them so highly.
The most important information is displayed prominently. Images are used to great effect. The buttons are utterly clickable and the load times are insignificant.
It’s important to note that both brands are extremely popular at the moment, and having such large user bases no doubt helps the design teams to refine their respective UX.
Another achievement that both Instagram and Airbnb have earned is the degree to which each site translates effectively to mobile app form.
Many brands struggle to create mobile versions of their platforms that are just as convenient to use as the browser version, but in these two cases, the mobile versions are not only seamless but, at times, more appealing than the browser equivalents.
This is much easier said than done, but given the information Dasgupta shared with us, we can be confident that, behind any successful UX, there is a large and dedicated team of highly-skilled professionals who can never stop making changes and improvements.
UX Designers and Researchers need to have perfectionist personalities to be successful. Even when satisfied with their work, they are still eager to start working on the next set of updates.
When UI and the subsequent UX remain static for too long, users may lose interest in the platform or might even feel that the company in question doesn’t care to put more time into it. Those feelings can quickly lead to a waning user base.
Messages to all
Before we close out this brief look at the wide world of UX, Dasgupta shared a few messages that she wants the general public to understand about the nature of UX and the professionals who make it happen.
“I feel that people in general should be aware of the research component of UX. They should also understand that UI is not the same as UX. UI and UX work together, but they have their own processes and requirements.”
Understanding these differences is of course important for the average user and can lead to a new form of appreciation for the online platforms that they use every day, but it can also be very important for professionals in the tech sector who don’t work directly in UI and UX.
With a better understanding of what it takes to fine-tune UX for a specific platform, other tech professionals can create accurate expectations for UX and for how quickly changes can be made to a current product.
Understanding the importance of UX research, specifically, can inform intelligent and strategic decision making that will benefit both the brand itself as well as its users.
Sadly, UX tends to go unnoticed and underappreciated, both among certain tech professionals and general users.
Under these conditions, it’s more likely for someone to become upset with the current UX of a particular product without knowing that changes can indeed be made to overcome the problem.
We hope that our conversation with Dasgupta and the information we’ve communicated has altered your view of UX in some way, leading to a more accurate vision of the work itself and how quickly things can be changed to suit different needs.
The next time you notice a major UX change to one of your favorite services, ask yourself how those changes alter your experience and why the changes were made. Maybe next time you meet a UX researcher, you can let them know that their work is appreciated!