UX design killing creativity or challenging it?

How does one measure one’s success in terms of creation? Create something unique and of value to someone. It is a skill, a natural born talent, a process, developed over time, and an outcome. What is a successful UX design? Knowing what your users need and want before they even realize they do. Technology and creativity have always gone hand in hand, indeed Leonardo Da Vinci was known for both the Mona Lisa and foreseeing the invention of planes. However, in the last 20 years, this alliance has taken on a whole new meaning. We now expect artists to also understand and manipulate technology, in fact, technology has even become the tool. For graphic designs and digital art directors the challenge has grown exponentially. Debates have arisen as to the benefits and drawbacks of UX design. Some believe it is killing creativity. Could this be the case or is a state of mind?

UX Design: Limiting Creativity?

Let’s explore why some people believe UX design is limiting creativity. Some believe that nothing is creative unless it works. Although this particular view has a negative outlook on creativity as a whole, it does apply to digital art direction. A client will not pay for a website that does not function appropriately. Julien Sister, Digital Art Director and UX Expert, sheds some light on the subject. In his opinion, UX should not interfere with design, as they are two separate steps. One comes before the other, and that is the way it should be. He states that “Being both design and UX expert can be a double-edged-sword. A trained designer’s instinct will be to prioritize beauty over practicality, but on the other hand, he or she can already reflect on what the design is going to look like whilst he or she builds the UX. The ultimate goal is to optimize the client’s content.” The challenge both clients and designers are facing are the ever evolving trends. As we catch up with the Phone-First trend, we are hit with the Phone-Only trend. Are trends moving too fast? Not allowing for creativity to emerge in its purest form. Julien disagrees and challenges that this is the “nature of our business”. He expands “being fast and adaptable are two obvious traits agencies must have. The difference will lie in their ability to predict and anticipate future web trends at a fast pace. Remain ahead of the game at all times.” He claims the ideal process is to have both programmers and designers work together, in order to go fast and avoid foreseeable issues. Clients want to be ahead of all trends, and limit art directors in their creativity because they want traffic and conversions. With those two exclusive objectives in mind they are not as open to hyper creative ideas categorizing them as risky. As creative minds get shut down, some are speculating that creativity can be admired, but unfortunately not used. Julien categorically disagrees with this statement. “You can always push a concept further: take the main idea and maximize the creative aspect. Take a client’s goal, and bring our experience and creativity to the table to make a successful final product. As a young designer you might want to stick to your ideas and resist constraints, but with experience you learn you must sometimes conform to best practises.” he elaborates.

UX Design: An Experience to Offer and an Area to Explore

Since the beginning of creativity, there have been limits. Should we go as far back as homosapiens drawing on cave walls, they had to create their own paste and make do with their canvas. Psychologically speaking, one could challenge that the very feeling of limitation is simply a state of mind. Quite like choosing to be pessimistic or optimistic. Limitation versus challenge. Following this train of thought, seeing UX design as a limitation of creativity would be a pessimistic view, and viewing it as a challenge would be an optimistic point of view.

What are the countering arguments proving that UX design is just another challenge? The first and most powerful argument is that if this statement were true, all websites would be the same. If no creativity was involved, websites would look the same, and be the same experience for users. Furthermore, the added challenge of UX design is acquiring the skill of anticipating your audience’s needs. Indeed, UX design is knowing what users need before they even realize they need them. Interestingly, Julien does not believe UX “challenges” creativity but rather provides a platform for designers to play with. In other words “Creativity comes in once the UX is set up, then I can start thinking about how I’m going to conjure up unique ideas through this platform.”. Another plus for UX design is that one is no longer just creating beautiful visuals, but creating an experience, creating a story for their audience. The question becomes: how to build a creative experience for users whilst remaining an efficient platform. The aim is to be efficient, usable, and innovative. Finding ways to be creative whilst respecting limitations is innovative. Julien takes this reasoning one step further and argues that designers must consider mobiles and desktops are two separate experiences for users. In fact, he articulates “Never underestimate your users’ knowledge. They know the difference, and expect different experiences on both platforms. For instance: if you are to try and convey the same amount of information/messages on a mobile device as on a desktop you will lose visits on both channels. Mobile visitors will expect short and sweet information, easy to access and navigate. Desktop visitors will expect more of a global experience, with more messages and information, allowing them to roam around the website seamlessly.”

We have found that a successful creation is the ability to create something unique and of value to someone, and that a successful UX design is the ability to anticipate your audience’s needs and wants before they do. Clients need a Digital Art Director who is also a UX and UI expert. This individual will have the creativity of an Art Director and the technical and strategic knowledge of a web expert, both merging together. Julien stresses this is not an easy task. Indeed he explains “in the beginning it was difficult to be both. I have a UI background, hence I would forge ahead with my ideas. Wearing both hats is like using two different brains in a way: the strategic one and the creative one. Passing ideas from one brain to the next. In an ideal world there would be two separate positions, in order to avoid crossovers.” We can conclude that one’s state of mind plays a big role in how one perceives a new challenge. Pessimistic minds will continue to see UX design as a limitation of their creativity, whilst some will embrace obstacles, challenging their creativity to find ways around and accommodating the constraints. Julien agrees with this view, and broadens the argument by stating “you must respect the UX outline, but it doesn’t have to be the final design. Think of it as an essay. The outline is not the final draft, it’s a guideline that will help you produce an engaging and well structured piece of writing. The relationship between UX and the final design is similar.”

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