Learnings from 3 years working on the mobile app UX for one of the largest airlines in the world.

1. Always try to articulate the fundamental problem or the goal that you’re trying to solve.

It’s very easy to get lost in details, especially when working on a complex set of business rules. However, part of being a UX specialist is that you get to align everyone in the team on the most important human need or goal we’re trying to achieve. You need to have the success factors and goals clearly stated before jumping into any design work. You need to do your homework first and understand the rules, limitations, and impact. This way, you’ll confidently be able to trim the fat of any brief that might require you doing irrelevant work.

When we were redesigning the check-in feature in the app, we had to face a lot of difficult decisions especially around keeping status-quo input fields and options that can be simplified or completely remove. We kept asking how might we make the whole flow blazing fast so that users get that reassurance of being checked-in to their flights and skip the long queues at the airport. Ultimately, we were able to achieve a 26% reduction in the time it takes for the user to check-in with the fastest recorded session taking as low as 6 seconds start to finish.

2. You don’t have to be an expert in mobile UX in order to succeed. You just need to do your homework.

The mobile landscape is ever-changing, so don’t believe anyone that calls themselves an expert. The fact is, some people have knowledge and experience while the rest don’t (yet). So, don’t get intimidated by any new fads or a mobile-specific terminology that you’re not familiar with. Just have an open mind to research anything you just heard about. Read more articles, watch videos, follow Apple’s WWDC Keynotes and Google’s IO, check what other apps are doing and eventually you’ll succeed in producing superb mobile-specific interaction design.

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel unless you absolutely have to.

We, designers, might sometimes itch to “make a dent in the universe”. However, in mobile apps, users are used to certain paradigms and mental models when doing certain tasks. So, trust the industry standards and don’t try to break them just for the fun of it.

Having said that, people at Apple or Google aren’t Design-Gods, or else they will never release updates and patches to their own apps and operating systems. They didn’t design solutions for every design problem under the sun, so, don’t assume that they have all the answers. When you’re up against a novel design problem, define what’s needed in clear simple terms and then iteratively design a solution that best answers that problem statement. After all, this is how the pull-to-refresh gesture was invented in the first place.

4. Work closely with developers. But never stop challenging them.

Developers will validate your ideas on the spot. They might even take a seed of an idea and run with it for you. They will tell you what a platform (Android or iOS) can or cannot do. The caveat to that is, sometimes developers might try to sway you away from a solution because it’s “technically difficult” or because there’s a “technical constraint” — don’t always take that feedback for granted, but rather challenge them and if you’ve seen that same solution in other apps, show it to them. They will thank you later for making them try implementing something new.

5. Work closely with UI designers. Period.

Healthy teams are multidisciplinary, our design team is based on specialism. Hence, the UX specialist works closely with the UI designer and both of them complement each other; exactly like Yin & Yang.

6. Don’t present “multiple variations” for product owners to choose from.

This might be ok if the UI designer is not sure about aesthetic elements (like images, icons, …etc). Or, if you’re demonstrating an A/B test plan that you’re about to release to users.

7. You are the main advocate for users in the room. But strive to go a step further and get the team in touch with their actual users.

Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a meeting where the team (BAs, Devs, POs …etc) are deciding what the user should or should not experience. It’s completely fine and healthy for the team to voice their opinions and relate features back to users. However, given that you are the UX expert in the room, you are the one with the most knowledge of user-centered design practices, psychology, industry research, and UX best practices and paradigms. You are also armed with facts and insights that you’ve learned from users who you talked to (assuming you’ve done your user research properly in the first place).

8. The product owner is the ultimate captain of the ship. Not you.

Product owners are in the epicenter of their product, they are the glue that holds everything together. From defining product strategy, roadmap and success metrics, to actually tracking those metrics and the execution of that strategy. In addition to their imperative responsibility of aligning other stockholders and constantly getting the rest of the business to agree on a specific feature or decision. They will also work closely with you, the UX specialist, on designing the best-in-class experiences for their users.

9. Perfection is a moving target.

There is nothing called “perfect” in UX design. The foundation of the UX discipline is based on the notion that we discover, build, release and measure. Without releasing as early as possible to the user, we can’t measure or learn how good this product or feature actually is. We have an arsenal of user research activities through which our confidence level can reach the green zone. However, history is full of companies that missed the window of success because they were obsessed with getting things to be “perfect”.

10. Learn the terminology.

UX specialists are constantly in the intersection between Humans, Business and Technology. You will find many situations where discussions are flying over your head because you don’t understand the “technical lingo” or the “business jargon”. Don’t panic or get intimidated, but rather do your homework. Be inquisitive and learn what those terms are and what they mean.

11. Go Macro. Go Micro. Rinse, Repeat.

We keep saying that we work in layers. But what does that mean? What do “layers” look like in a typical process? Well, when we reach the execution phase of any project, we have to think about the bigger picture first. How the overall user flow will look like and how fast or slow that flow is. Sometimes we want to intentionally slow the user down because it’s a very important task with high-stakes and we don’t want users to commit any mistakes, like the payment flow for example. Most of the other times, we want to make the flow blazing fast. But in order to achieve that intentionality, we have to design the Macro UX first without getting bogged down with details. Once you lock down the flow and the overall user journey, you can start moving a level deeper and flesh out more details.

Robert Zikry

Lead UX Specialist,Dubai

Robert Zikry

Lead UX Specialist,Dubai