No metaphors! And other reflections...
The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett offers is organized by the field's five planes, from bottom to top: strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, and surface. Below are three reflections on the book, but I recommend giving it a quick read to get the full effect.
Speak in terms of goals (not features)
Stakeholders like to speak in terms of features, but features are created to solve strategic goals. Multiple features could solve the same goal, so instead of developing multiple features, choose one, and go. Coming from the nonprofit/social entrepreneur world, we often focused on how we could be a hip nonprofit and have the right tech products and marketing materials to position ourselves. This often led to going down multiple rabbit holes without a top-level goal in mind.
"Habit and reflex are the foundation for much of our interaction with the world."
This makes sense, right? Driving a car becomes second nature, even if you're like me and don't drive for a year at a time. When I'm behind the wheel, driving comes back to me like it was yesterday. When it comes to digital products, how do conventions (around which we form habits) come to be? I'm fascinated by how digital conventions are created, by how designers have deviated from convention because they saw a clear benefit for users, and then months later, that new convention becomes habit forming for users and a standard design practice for UX designers.
The author, Jesse James Garrett, clumps convention and metaphor together, noting that while convention is usually a good thing, metaphors are almost always a bad idea. The associations we create in our minds come from our unique experience. Using a metaphor to explain a feature or vocabulary choice in a product is like sending each user a different definition of what you're trying to explain. It's like playing the word association game - What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of bananas? Ready...GO.
(bananas --> monkeys --> zoo --> pittsburgh --> haunted house --> fright night --> school bus --> friends --> best friend's wedding) You didn't get there with me? Weird.
*Always Document Design Decisions* (ADDD)
Why? Because everything. We forget why we made decisions, people transition, a company pivots and needs to rethink its design or brand conventions. You can do this by creating a style guide. This is SUPER IMPORTANT.
In my past life as a communications manager, I made decisions quickly, mostly in a silo, and only explained why when asked. My decisions always made sense to me, but I wasn't reflecting on why I made them and would often have trouble explaining them if a lot of time had gone by. Now I am constantly documenting my decisions, making it easy to develop, explain, and refine my design process.