I don’t critique websites to measure relative success and here’s why
By definition, user experience design is entirely contextual. When we look at our competitors’ websites to see if their design is relevant to our businesses, if we like them, we are creating a lot of assumptions. Most of them are probably wrong.
- We assume the designs are successful because we admire their design choices
- We assume the designs are not successful because we dislike their design choices
- We ignore if it was successful at all or not, since we need data for that, and we don’t know the goals to measure the data against
- We ignore their target personas and use ourselves in their place (if you’re reading this, you are never their target user, you are irrelevant to their design choices)
- We ignore all scenarios they are trying to design for
- And so much more! Their budget, time allotment on that assignment, campaign strategy, long-term goals, their validation, the strategy behind it, etc.
To know whether a single choice in a design is successful, there has to be a gathering of all this data to measure success. All of this had to be taken into consideration in the first place to design it. What was the goal to begin with? If it was an increase in conversion, did it raise conversion? Did they test against other designs and this won? And yes, I love referencing others, as contextual thinkers certainly need references, but those references generally should be observed and not copied.
If you do borrow a design element from another website and plop it into your website design, you are removing its original context. Don’t assume it will work for you, test to validate the theory.
I don’t judge ux designers based on their portfolio alone and here’s why
Taking everything into consideration, it’s challenging to create successful designs for a business. Especially when so many people are involved into every decision, it’s hard to create successful design sometimes even in the best circumstances. Also, I sincerely believe we should work in an environment that allows for failure, so we can learn more about our users, the scenarios we used, the market targeted, brand alignment issues, etc. An open environment allows for innovation because there is no fear of failure and no pressure to be safe. So sometimes the best strategies will fail, and that’s okay.
When you hire someone in this line of work (web designers, user experience, ux design, interactive designers, usability testing, design strategist, etc.), it is important to hire based on their ability to think critically, be empathetic toward users, be objective, think creatively, and finally, have a good eye for design. Keep in mind that some beautiful pieces fail catastrophically and some visually incoherent designs see great success. Remember to keep your bottom line in mind at all times. What are your goals?
So please, examine their portfolio to see if they can design for your brand, but remember that the end result is not even half the story. You will want to ask questions about their samples that the portfolio cannot show. What were the challenges? What was your approach? How did the process go? What was the result? How did you judge success? What did you learn? Ask to see wireframes, prototypes, and the original creative brief. Look into their methodology. What other skills do they bring to the table – programming, development, psychology, mathematics, usability testing, business experience, customer experience, journalism? Do they lose sleep at night worrying if they chose the wrong color for a button, or if their design will allow for enough search engine optimization copy in their content strategy, since organic search is very important to that business?
Try open-ended questions
One of the best interview tasks I ever had started off with the interviewer giving me reign over their conference room computer, and saying, “take us through a website you worked on that you’re proud of, start to finish.” Try being open and providing that task. It allows the interviewee to explain the strategy they used, the goals needed, and if it was successful. You will know quickly if the designer is a critical-thinker if they go through the example that way rather than just showing you their favorite visual layout they designed and talking about colors. Providing them a moment to be proud of their work, you will see them relax, and give you a sneak-peak into their design process and methodology.