Discovering and Applying UX Best Practices

Read Broadly—About UX, Design, and Other Topics

“One of the better ways to discover best practices is to read,” recommend Dan and Jo. “You can begin your discovery of existing best practices by getting into a routine of reading articles. But we recommend that you not read only publications relating to User Experience or design, but also venture into other topics that can provide you a wider and deeper perspective. Practice capturing some observations about what is happening at work and in life that you can then share and discuss with your peers and others. One place to start is with a few newspapers. We lean toward the New York Times—especially their opinion section—but there are other good papers. Browse the major sections to get a sense of what is happening and how writers have analyzed and discussed events.” Dan and Jo recommend that you read their article, with Michael Davis-Burchat, “Routines on Projects: Why They Deserve More Attention.”

“One of the things I love about User Experience is that it’s an ever-evolving practice,” says Warren. “It doesn’t allow you to stagnate. I have found that the best way for me to keep up with best practices is to read regularly. Here’s my reading list:

“I keep these in a feed reader—I use Netvibes—then, every day, I quickly scan the feed for articles of interest.”

Don’t Try to Learn Everything at Once

“Staying up to date in User Experience means staying up to date with technology trends in general—so trying to stay on top of everything can be really overwhelming,” replies Amanda. “The first thing to know is that you don’t need to try to learn everything all at once. You can’t anyway, so choose a few things to investigate at a time. Following a site like UXmatters is a good place to start, but there are lots of smart people publishing in all kinds of places, including Medium, LinkedIn, and tool blogs. I recommend your setting up a feed reader for a few key terms at a time, then setting aside time once a week to review your feed.”

Meet Other UX Designers

“Get connected with your local UX community,” suggests Amanda. “Most major metropolitan areas have at least a meetup, if not more. Even if events are not on topics you think you’d learn from, you’ll probably meet other smart people who will be willing to share their experience. This means you’ll not only hear about what other people are trying, but their struggles and lessons learned. You can almost always find someone who has tried tackling a problem similar to yours or used a tool in a slightly different way, and you can hear firsthand how they approached it and incorporated into their practice. This is a great way to figure out how to get started on your own. There are lots of writeups online of a similar nature, but I find it helpful to have a conversation rather than just reading an experience report or case study.”

Try Out New Design Ideas

“Simply hearing or reading about someone else’s experience doesn’t mean you’ll get an answer that will work for you. Every team and project is different,” adds Amanda. “The best way I’ve found of incorporating best practices or new learnings is to just go ahead and try them out. Choose a side project or a noncritical component of your current work and go through a few rounds of trial and error, involving other team members in the learning and demonstrating the value of your new practices to others along the way.”

“You must translate all your learnings into actionable knowledge,” advises Warren. “Here’s an example: I recently read an article on A List Apart about ‘The Coming Revolution in Email Design.’ At Gazelle, working on an ecommerce site, we do a lot of email, especially around the holidays. We have traditionally used animated GIFs, but recently, for the first time, we tried using CSS animation. It worked great and the files were a lot smaller than animated GIFs. This is just one basic example, but if you read regularly, you’ll invariably find things you’ll want to try out yourself.”

Look for Patterns

“A significant part of establishing best practices is extracting them from patterns in your data, then understanding what drives a behavior,” reply Dan and Jo. They recommend their article “Deeper Understanding: Stories, Observations, and Insights.” “If you can recognize habits and behaviors that are leading to negative outcomes for your projects, you can spend time considering and thinking about what practices you can adopt to demonstrate that there may be another approach,” Dan and Jo continued. “Then, back up those new practices with evidence that’s supported by both your project experience and reading references. You want to be sure that your revised practices help you to avoid negative outcomes.”

“Our firm uses a set of user-experience heuristics that are based on research by luminaries such as Jakob Nielsen, Rolf Molich, and Steve Krug,” replies Mark. “Arm yourself with a good set of heuristics that are already actionable—such as the oft-cited ‘10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design,’ by Nielsen and Molich. Lather, rinse, and repeat long enough—that is, gain experience by repeatedly applying the heuristics—and these best practices will become second nature to any UX designer.”

Remember Soft Skills

“To learn, go to conferences, read Forrester and Gartner reports, and join user groups—either on LinkedIn or in your own area,” recommends Tobias. “Then, communicate best practices within your organization—especially upward to management to get their support. Determine in what areas you can readily copy and adopt the best practices and also in what areas this would be problematic. To overcome any obstacles, call on your supporters in management to help you effect the necessary changes.”

“Consider that practices are made up of soft skills, and it requires constant practice to improve these skills over time,” suggest Dan and Jo. “These soft skills include, but are not limited to, observation, leading, listening, connecting, framing, playing, and storytelling.” Pabini recommends that you read her article on soft skills, “13 Human Qualities You Must Have to Succeed in Work and Life.” 

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