Startup UX and Design Demystified

PUBLISHED January 11 2013
Danny Boice - Speek Co-FounderDanny Boice is the Co-Founder & CTO of Speek where he runs product and technology.  Speek is a 500 Startups-funded startup that let's users do conference calls with a simple link (speek.com/YourName) rather than using phone numbers and PINs.

A serial startup/technology entrepreneur and executive, Danny started his career as a software engineer working for startups like Network Solutions and MusicMaker.com in the 90s. Danny founded his first company, Jaxara, in the early 2000s (exited via acquisition), and co-founded Speek with John Bracken in 2012. Danny attended Harvard.

 


Figure 1: The mythical all-in-one UX +Visual Designer purple unicorn species
** Credit for image goes to Fanpop.com

I recently wrote an article called Startup Technology Demystified. In that piece I looked at the most common technologies used by startups and broke them down into words that could be understood by the business-afflicted among us.

Truth be told, however, there may be one single concept that is even more elusive than startup technology in the land of the entrepreneur: the difference between user experience and design.

Wouldn’t know gestalt taxonomy from a colonoscopy? Can’t tell Jakob Nielsen from Leslie Nielsen? (Hint: one is a really funny, white-haired guy. The other one was in Airplane.) Well then keep reading, my friend—I am about to fuck up your mind with some truth.

You know that Tom’s-shoe-wearing, DUMBO-romping, Warby-Parker-vintage-glasses-that-he/she-insists-on-referring-to-as-“spectacles” hipster with the tweedy impertinence and apathetic demeanor that magically make products easier to use?  That’s probably a UX badass, NOT a visual designer, and you better be able to tell the difference, home slice.

User Experience

User experience (UX) is the way a person feels about using a product, system, or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful, and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership, but it also includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease-of-use, and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change.

Translation: User experience people think about the holistic usability of your product. This includes things like the personas constituting your users, the flows users will follow, how to make flows and screens as user friendly as possible, and what goes on (or better - gets left off of) each screen.

Some of the things that User Experience peeps will consider and/or deliver:

* Personas
* Wireframes
* Interactive Prototypes
* Copy, labels, messaging

The type of problems a UX person may solve for you:

* The ideal user flow for a new user to my product
* The information that should be displayed on each screen (and why)
* Users can’t figure out how to use this widget or feature
* Users can’t figure out how to navigate this flow
* Users register but still don’t get what we do
* I can’t get users to register from my home page

Visual Designers

Visual design is the practice or profession of designing print or electronic forms of visual information, as for an advertisement, publication, or website.

Translation: Visual designers think about the quality of a user interface, the polished graphical elements that make up that user interface, and the interactions that occur when a human uses that user interface.

Some of the things that Visual Designers will deliver to you:

* Screen mocks
* Style guides
* Interaction guides
* PSD’s (aka Photoshop files)

The type of problems a Visual Designer will solve for you:

* The look and feel of my app sucks
* My UX freelancer just gave me a bunch of wireframes...now what happens?
* What colors, styles and other visual elements should I use in my app to do my brand justice?
* Users think my company sucks because of my shitty home page

Real World Example

To give you a practical example, I am going to take you through the UX and design steps we followed to bring our Speek iPhone app to life.

Below you will see what our UX lead delivered versus what our Visual Designer delivered.

UX – Storyboards, Structural Flow, Wireframes

This is something that our User Experience person designed.  The mission was to come up with the very best user experience for getting an iPhone user onto a conference call.

Storyboards



Structure / Flow



Wireframes



Visual Designer – Design Comps & PSD’s





Final Product

If you’d like to see the final working product you can see it here.

Conclusion

I hear people commingle and confuse UX professionals and Visual Design professionals all the time.  I also hear people assume they will be able to find one person who is great at being both.  Both of these misconceptions are huge mistakes.  As a startup founder, you must be intimately aware of the nuances between the design and user-experience professions; knowing who to ask for what and what to expect specifically from each employee and contractor is essential to help your product succeed.