December 15, 2015

When Jesse James Garrett first published The Elements of User Experience, it quickly because an instant classic. That’s because the book brought people working in web design together by providing a much-needed framework for speaking about UX. It describes how different parts of UX fit together in the development process. It’s been almost ten years since Elements was first released, and the work is still considered a must-read for anyone working in design.

When I was starting out as product designer I found Elements to be an immensely helpful resource for shaping my mindset for approaching projects. I was particularly drawn to the the idea of the “ripple effect” that occurs whenever we make a decision about the design. When a choice is made on a lower plane, such as the structure plane, that choice is going to impact the range of possible options available all the way up to the top surface plane. What this really means is that if you want to add Y thing to the design on the surface plane level when the previous plane only allowed for options X and Z — you’re going to have to revisit your more fundamental decisions on the previous plane. Although this is logical, it’s a concept that we may tend to forget

Another interesting point that was mentioned in the book was to be careful not to confuse format with purpose. For example, it’s common practice to include an FAQ section on your website. As Garrett points out though, creating content and keeping it up-to-date can take a lot of time and is hard work! So before rushing to incorporate an FAQ section, it’s important to step back and assess whether this particular format is the best means of addressing the purpose at hand.

Elements is chock-full of wisdom that’s stood the test of time, but I have some doubts about whether the framework still applies to newer products, like mobile apps. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I believe they do. But I question the belief that users would “invariably favor a clearly defined seven-step process over a confusingly compressed three-step alternative.” In theory, I agree that clarity always trumps length — but I don’t think it’s as black-and-white as Garrett discusses, especially for mobile users who expect a succinct experience on their phones. But, I’m always up for a debate :)

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