As the field of Experience Design seems to expand ever outwards, and peoples lives become more reliant on the things we create, I really think there ought to be an ethical code of conduct that all designers pledge to stand by. We’re in the creation business. Be it a website, an app, or an offline experience, we are creating something, for someone, somewhere. The consumers of what we create are people. Human beings. And every time there is a human being involved, there should be guidance for how we can best serve those people. To give, rather than take away. Much like the hippocratic oath is there to help medical practitioners serve their patients, I wanted to create something more practical for the UX designers of the world.
I’m going to kick off part 1 with something that is important, but often overlooked by a lot of experience designers — time.
I promise not to waste the users precious time
You really don’t own anything in life. The only thing you own is your time. — Robert Greene
I recently listened to an interview with Robert Greene, on a podcast called The Knowledge Project from Farnham Street Blog. Robert is the author of New York Times bestsellers The 48 Laws of Power , The 33 Strategies of War, Mastery and The Art of Seduction. His books are known for being controversial, and yet each in turn has been a major success. Whilst listening to him chat about his thoughts on how he spends his own time, Robert came out with the most interesting and thought provoking idea — one that is explored in one of his books. His idea was that you don’t really own anything in life at all, not even your body. But the one thing you do own, is your time.
Alive time, is time that you own — no one is telling you how to spend it — Robert Greene
When you frame time like this, it’s hard not to accept that it is a precious, finite resource. This got me thinking about where my time has been — quite literally — spent recently. How long was a trying to input information into the project management tool I regularly use? How long did I spend editing and re-editing my calendar, because I clicked the wrong button and had to re-enter everything again? How long did I spend searching for a specific email in my inbox before I gave up, frustrated and blaming myself?
Now yes, I am in charge of my time. I chose to do those tasks. But my expectation is that I could get them done in a reasonable amount of time, and that was not the case — as it is with many products and service that are designed and released into the big wide world.
Each day you get 84,600 seconds.
You get 84,600 seconds a day. Imagine if you woke up with $84,600 in your bank account each day. And every day at the end of the night, its gone. Whether you wasted it or not, and the next day you get another $84,600. You would do everything in your power to spend it. Because you know that the next day you’re getting another $84,600. You don’t want to leave nothing there. You’d make the best of it, right? You get 84,600 seconds. Why waste time? It doesn’t carry over to the next day. It doesn’t earn interest. — Harlem Elvis
When you start to think of time in monetary terms, although not the same, it can help you understand the gravity of wasting time. At age 16 Harlem Elvis’ mother was murdered, and he fell into poverty. Despite this he has succeeded as a graphic designer, and understands all too well how precious the time you are given each day is. The video of his thoughts on time can help put this concept in perspective.
Making the user efficient
As user experience designers we must be mindful that we are creating the most efficient user journeys that help the end user make the best use of their time. When we are careless and lack empathy for this precious resource, we are taking that time away from them. Precious minutes of that person’s life that could be spent on more valuable, enriching, experiences.
This sounds pretty heavy, but lets quantify it, to give some perspective. Take some of these common activities for example:
- Trying to get a word processed document formatting to look right
- Getting a tin opener to just grip onto that tin.
- Scanning, rescanning, and then eventually waiting for an assistant at the self service checkout.
- Entering your registration — or just working out — how a parking ticket machine works.
- Organising your online shop, searching for products, and going through the checkout.
- Spending 5 minutes in a phone queue going through the menu options, or waiting on hold.
All of these examples are common activities. It’s quite possible you may do many of them over the course of just one day. But all of those are at some point designed by someone, perhaps like yourself, and all of them are tasks that have frequent usability issues. Imagine that each of those takes 5 minutes to complete, that’s a total of 30 minutes of time wasted over a day. Over the course of year that is over 182 hours of precious time wasted. That’s just over a week every year! This is time that the person could be spent enjoying their hobbies, with their children and loved ones, or any number of enriching activities that isn’t sucking away their time each day.
Becoming less reckless
As designers we have a responsibility to ask ourselves the following questions about the things we design:
- How much time is this thing i’ve designed taking away from the user?
- How can we get better at assessing our products and services to identify areas that are taking too long?
- Is this users journey taking a reasonable amount of time?
- Is it not only a reasonable amount of time, but time well spent? It the time spent enjoyable, and if that’s not appropriate, then is the time invisible?
- Can we prioritize the things we ask of the user, so they only do the most required tasks?
- What parts of this journey can we automate, to save time? What savings can we make for this user?
None of us know how much time we are given in life. For the lucky ones, a generous amount of time, and for some, precious little. Regardless, it is important to to help all users do the best they can with their allotted time, in everything you design.
What do you think? Are there any areas you feel should belong in the UX Designers Code of Conduct? Let me know your thoughts here, or say hi on twitter! @laura_yarrow
I’ll be posting more code of conduct guidelines in Part 2, if you enjoyed part 1 then please do share or 👏 👏👏👏👏👏