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What is your UX style?


Authors: Monica Granfield
Posted: Fri, August 09, 2013 - 7:13:29

Having come out of traditional design training and then migrated into a field that is more conceptually than visually design oriented, for more than two decades I have experienced a bit of an identity crisis. I often wonder how to explain my profession and if it is possible to have a style within this profession. In trying to explain what it is I do for a living, some typical responses to my description of my job are: "Oh you're a graphic designer, so you determine what the software looks like?" "Ergonomics, what is that?" "Information design, is that like statistics?" "Industrial design, you do engineering?" "Features, are you a PM?" "Inventor, what?" A UX designer is a bit of all of these. With a combination of skill sets and areas of focus, can a UX designer have a style? Is there even such a thing as a UX style? Is UX design tangible enough to assign a style to it? In trying to tangibly define a UX style what might it be comparable to, interior design, industrial design, or architecture?

Maybe UX style is akin to architecture. Often we are confined to designing within an operating system and to exploring our creativity and style within an already established environment. Architects are challenged by issues such as zoning, safety rules, materials, and creating a look and feel for a specific time period. Yet, architects are still able to explore their creativity and develop a style that spans from functional to visual.

We could explore the idea that UX design style is similar to industrial design. Jonathan Ive, the master of pushing the envelope on the use of materials to create visually beautiful and functionally innovative hardware, has established his style as clean, innovative, creative, elegant, simple, and sophisticated.

Or maybe we follow along the patterns of interior decorator and interior designer. An interior decorator is not licensed or certified in materials handling and is focused on making a space look and feel inviting via the aesthetics. An interior designer is licensed and certified in materials handling, and is trained to create functional environments via construction practices and building codes, as well as aesthetics. Industrial designers have dependencies on architects, developers, and visual designers, much like a UX designer. They also have a style that they typically work within. This style is usually related to a time period, much like architecture. UIs are not typically related to a time period, but instead to a brand or an OS.

As an example for exploring UX styles we might ask: How does the style, of say, the OSX finder compare to that of the Windows finder? The visual styles are inherited from the OS. Immediately the design focus moves to the functional. How do you navigate through the folder? How easy is it to find your way around, while keeping context? What functions make sense to launch from here and how discoverable are these features? Maybe UX design that is specifically for an OS, enterprise environments included, is more akin to commercial industrial design or commercial architecture, and Web or app design is more free form and therefore more akin to residential industrial design or residential architecture. When designing a commercial building the scope of the navigation is much larger. Have the elevators, restrooms, and exits been made discoverable, while still integrating the brand and the overall intent for the feel of the environment? When designing a small website or app the navigation may be more limited and the focus may be on how to keep the user engaged in the environment to drive results. How do you apply a brand and make the user feel at home? The platform being the house, how creative can I be within this platform and within this budget? Home or office? Same discipline, slightly different focus, based on scope and use.

So how can we quantify our style as a UX designer? Are we akin to any of these disciplines at all or are we able to define our own style in our own way? Are you a light open and airy designer? How intelligent is your experience? How much do you assist the user where needed, while still allowing the user to remain in control? How logical and predictable is your workflow? I am not sure that there are lines that make a direct correlation to any other design discipline. And I can't quite describe a UX style. We are always talking about simplifying a UI. Would this describe our style as minimalist?

My visual and interior design style leans toward modern and minimalist with clean lines and bold accents. This doesn't always translate to my UI designs. My visual UI designs are mostly driven off of the OS or the company brand. On occasion there is more license for design exploration. I do try to emanate an emotion and style in my UI designs; however, much like an interior designer they are also about the audience and function (form does follow function) and the usability of the end product. So how is it that function and usability have a style? And they do, I just need to figure out a way to explain and define it.

I suppose my UX style could translate into clarity, innovation, thoughtfulness, and simplicity of the environment for the user. What is your UX style? Are you able to define it? 


Posted in: on Fri, August 09, 2013 - 7:13:29

Monica Granfield

Monica Granfield is a user experience strategist at Go Design LLC.
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