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How The ‘Squishy Stuff’ Delivers Business Impact

El Reeve
Senior UX Designer

Give me something concrete

Many large businesses remain new to design, and especially to the practice of UX. They might have had teams of developers, QA engineers, solution architects and technical project managers for years, but you could bet good money on their design teams or partnerships with design companies being recent endeavours. Perhaps you recognise some of these characteristics in your own company? These environments are the ones in which one might hear phrases like “such-and-such will ‘do some UX’” or “such-and-such will make it look shiny, and then we will get on and build that component”. 

When people think of UX, many of them still think of visual design or interface design. Some might think of wireframes. However, at its core UX is the practice of identifying real-world problems and using design to try to solve them. It encompasses product strategy, research, information architecture, content strategy… Fine - we can get on board with this, right? This sounds like ‘Business’. This sounds concrete.


The difficulty comes when one starts to talk about exploring the problem space (uh-oh), and to explain that discovering and understanding those problems requires talking to real people (danger), and that in order to solve any real-world problem in a meaningful way, we need to build a deep empathy (there it is) with these people. In other words, we need to do the ’squishy stuff’. This doesn’t sound like ‘Business’ anymore - we’re talking about how people think and feel - emotions! This sounds floaty… but this, dear reader, is how you can deliver by far and away the greatest impact to your business in the most concrete of terms: reducing waste, reducing time to market, rising above your competitors and - that holiest of holies - saving money.


Solving problems in a meaningful way

People are diverse in their models of thought and their behaviour. We can be unpredictable or messy; we are naturally emotional creatures, we all solve problems in different ways, interpret things differently, and have different needs. Furthermore, we are so complex that what we say is not always what we think, feel or do. People are guaranteed to surprise you in any user interview, usability test or natural use of your product. Understanding how your users think, behave, feel and need provides insights and evidence for critical decisions about your product - from the scope of your MVP through to design decisions. People are data points. Understanding how your users think, behave, feel and need provides insights and evidence for critical decisions about your product - from the scope of your MVP through to design decisions.

Solving the right problems in a meaningful way creates value and affinity. Rather than getting tangled up in trying to define and deliver a theoretical 100% of something based on what your business thinks it needs to do that may or may not be successful - that may or may not even launch because it’s huge and complex, you can focus on delivering 5% of something that is solid gold. A 5% that is smaller and less risky, that you can deliver in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the investment with greater confidence in its value and competitiveness. A 5% that you can then expand upon based on your existing UX evidence combined with actual usage data. 


Delivering the wrong thing - something that your users don’t use or that doesn’t save you money, or doesn’t attract new customers - is very expensive. Conducting research and being unafraid to come up with, test and throw away a high volume of low-fi sketched ideas early on in your process is comparatively very cheap. 

Embrace the squishy stuff. UX (which would perhaps be better termed ‘human experience design’) is an art for sure, but it is also a science. The science behind great design, great products - and your success.

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