Remember this beauty? Paul Vasquez’s jubilant wonder of the double rainbow outside his front yard in 2010 went viral because of the over-the-top reaction Vasquez has on-camera. To date, the Youtube video has had more than 45 million views.
In it, Vasquez famously wonders aloud, between sobs of joy, “What does it meeeeean?”
Turns out that’s a very handy question in UX.
The same question pops up in the classic 2000 indie film High Fidelity, where John Cusack’s character Rob Gordon, fresh after being left by girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle), embarks on a mission to revisit his Top 5 all-time painful breakups.
Why? Because he is obviously (as his #3 on his All Time Breakup List, Charlie Nicholson, accuses) “Going through one of those ‘What-does-it all-mean’ things!”
While Rob Gordon’s experiences range from comic to painful, any UX designer or practitioner would be well served by having a High Fidelity/Double Rainbow “What does it all mean” moment.
Put another way, always ask yourself: “If this project works, so what?”
Much work is project driven, and the scope of our vision tends to narrow to the confines of the project, task, test or design at hand. This can end up putting on blinders to the kinds of business need questions that can help you provide the most UX value to users and business.
Ask questions that expand beyond the project:
- If this project succeeds, what difference does it make to the whole organization?
- Imagine if this project works spectacularly well, so what? What does that mean for the user and for the business?
The answers can not only give you a better understanding of the vision and strategy for a project in the wider scheme of things, it can inform the kind of work itself.
Case study: Oilfield Journey
I was involved in a project with a multinational oil and gas company, which was creating a new internal application to streamline processes at a specific plant location. nForm was brought in to provide UX design to an internal agile team.
While we created wireframes and a clickable prototype during the project, we were also able to help deliver something else, and we did that by asking “what does it all mean” and “if this works as it should, then what happens?”
When we interviewed the staff members who, in various existing roles, would interact with this application, we were able to start mapping out the roles, workflow steps and interaction points they had with each other. As a way of keeping track of not only where the new app might fit in, but as a way to understand and visualize the various moving pieces of their current state, I started drawing out a map of users and interactions, first on a large whiteboard, then in Axure:
Visualizing this, while asking the high level “what does it all mean” questions, allowed us to not just provide the design mocks and wireframes the project wanted from our roles. We were able to rethink how the app would be implemented, at what interaction points it could be used and where it didn’t make sense, and how it could be adapted by the various stakeholders to make overall improvements in operational efficiency.
We were even able to redraw the map to show what a future state model would look like, with some thought given to not only the app’s design and functionality, but where and how it was used in the processes currently underway at the site and by management.
Asking the questions, thinking about the situation and what could be done to improve it by the project we were working on, and having clear visuals informed by interviews with real users, we were able to successfully paint a picture for the app’s product owner that allowed him to not only understand, but become an enthusiastic champion for this vision.
It also gave the user we interviewed a sense that their feedback was being listened to, as well as hope that the app being built would actually and tangibly make their lives easier. They could see what would happen if the project was a major success, and how that impacted their work processes for the better.
That doesn’t happen for the client if we are content to sit back and design the wireframes in Axure that we’re asked to make by the team.
That happens when we keep a higher-level consideration in mind when doing our work.
That happens when we look for the double rainbow shining over our projects.