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3 Steps for an Evolutionary Approach to UX Design

Posted by drew on July 19, 2015, 6 p.m.

The way humans interact with things is changing. Technology has fundamentally altered the way our brains interpret the world around us, particularly our memories (see here). With our brains relying on Google to keep track of easily-accessible facts, our brains are available for other tasks.

Some may say this is an evolutionary step in the progress of our brains. After all, evolution is the gradual change of a species in response to its environment. In the internet age, our brains have evolved to take on different functions and see the world in different ways.

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The rise of the abstract form

This certainly isn’t the first time this has happened. With the dawn of language, humans were able to understand the world in different ways. We could now speak in abstracts and discuss future and past events. With the novelty of abstracts, humans had more access to ideas than before, as opposed to tangible things and practicality. This transition allowed us access to a world of perfect ideals.

Tangible objects are mired in the details of their physicality, the things that make them unique, but also imperfect. The abstract, however, frees itself from these details in favor of a pure form. For example, a physical dog may have long, blonde fur, floppy ears, and other details that differentiate it from other dogs and other animals. The abstract idea of “dog”, however, would have only the essential elements that would be common in all dogs.

No details of fur, ears, demeanor, size, etc. could be incorporated into the abstract idea because these things are too concrete. This ideal notion of “dog” is perhaps perfect, but it is also less accessible than a physical dog. Before language, we only had access to physical objects, but language granted access to abstract concepts.

Similarly, with Google keeping encyclopedic tabs on all common knowledge, humans are able to focus on our own experiences, and how these experiences may differ from others’. It is this increasing focus on individual experiences that has led Fusionbox to consider UX Design.

User Experience design has typically focused on solid metrics like conversion rates, customer retention and satisfaction, etc. Doing this, however, prevents designers from considering abstracts, independent of quantifiable data. To what extent does your design capture the abstract ideal, or a perfect concept? Given that users are focusing less on what you give them and more on HOW you give it to them, what feelings will they have after engaging with your design?

What is Evolutionary UX?

In this age, where humans have evolved better capabilities for understanding abstract ideals, and where the experience of learning is more important than the knowledge itself, UX Designers need to be striving for abstract concepts and ideals. What is the essence of a perfect website or product? How can we distill a design down to its most basic elements without losing its practical functionality? Here are the steps to engaging in evolutionary UX Design:

1. Assemble an army of practicals

The internet has given us unprecedented access to information. The first step in reaching for an abstract ideal is to collect information on all of the practical examples you can. It is by looking at the breadth of possibilities that you begin to understand how to distill something down to its essence.

2. Look for common ground

Do your best to find the features that exist across all practical versions. This is the process of distilling down practicals to their essence. By removing the features that hold these objects in the concrete realm, you gain greater access to the abstract ideal.

3. Make it accessible

Once you have determined which features are essential and necessary to the abstract concept of an object, you can begin to design a particular version of that object, with just enough realistic detail to make it accessible to users. Design like this will be familiar and usable, but also reflect a certain instinctual sense of completion and perfection.

We’ve come to call this approach to user experience design Evolutionary UX, because it appeals to the intuitive understanding of abstract concepts that humans have been evolving to understand. Evolutionary UX speaks to users on a subliminal level, appealing to an evolved sense of ideal and perfection.

TL;DR

Technology and language give humans access to abstract experience, free from concrete details and imperfection.  By designing products and websites that reference these abstract concepts, you can speak to an intuitive understanding of ideals and perfection, while still creating something familiar and accessible.

Designers must first find the essential form; this is the most basic and pure version of the product, stripped of individual characteristics that would anchor it to the concrete and imperfect. Once the form is found, just enough detail should be added to take it from complete abstraction to practical item. These details and functions distinguish one product from others like it. They allow a design to have practical use, familiarity, and functionality, while still approaching an abstract ideal.