Finding your feet as a UX designer in the post-commodity design world

Francois Brill
6 min readApr 5, 2019

We all love something that looks nice, it’s the reason the fashion industry exists and is a multi-billion dollar industry. People love the way things look and work. Design started out as the “bells and whistles”, the splash of proverbial paint we add at the end of a process. The way I was taught and worked for decades was to get the set of requirements and if you’re lucky add your 2 cents, and return visuals that bring it to life.

The problem is that the design was added at the end of a process. Design is not something you can just add in at the end to “make it pretty”, and even if it was, it definitely isn’t anymore. There is an entire field of design, UX Design, which is all about how you think rather than how you can “design”. You would not even be expected to know how to do visual design if you specialise in UX Design. The two are completely different fields, mindsets and rightfully so people with different skillsets at the end of the day.

Finding our place

The challenge for us as designers, thinkers and creative problem-solvers are to motivate for our existence as part of the entire process. If you think of it, it’s actually ridiculous that almost any other professional industry has this separation of specialities. Architecture has an architect who specialises in making the plans, according to best practice and experience they draft the plans, liaise with clients to meet their needs. Finally they deliver a blueprint for a builder to take over and actually build the structure, they in turn would utilise and liaise with multiple other teams and specialists, from plumbers to electricians to make the clients dream a reality. Similarly we have civil engineers, designing structures and complete different teams implementing those plans. The point being, the teams implementing the solution are not the ones coming up with the plans. There is a need for different people with different mindsets at different stages in the process to offer the best possible solution at that time based on their training and experience. Doesn’t matter the industry, there is a space for the research, discovery and design phase upfront to ensure the success of the overall product.

In a similar fashion, design is starting to see the light of day where it’s becoming the way to think, upfront, researching, planning and making sure we are solving the right problems. We’re separating the world of design from the commodity it’s always been known for. It’s no longer just something I get, or something I can see at the end, it’s definitely no longer something I can pick and buy off a shelf. It rather becomes this intertwined glue that holds the entire process together.

“Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task.” — Tim Brown

Design is the glue

When we enter the world of thinking like a designer, we take a complete empathetic approach. We need to understand first and foremost, who our users are, who will be using our products, and then as best as possible figure out what they want to achieve and create something that will help them achieve that. You might think it’s easy, just ask them… and we’re done… You couldn’t be further from the truth, as this has been discovered multiple times — the hard way — that what people say and what they do are not the same thing. We cannot simply ask someone what they would pay for something as an example, it’s easy for them to commit their imaginary money, but when it comes to actually putting their own money where their mouth is, most of the time it’s a completely different scenario.

In one study a focus group that got together to try and establish if a traditional “boombox” radio would sell better if it came in white, most of the participants in the study said they’ll buy a white one — It’s cool, they aspire to be seen as cool by having one, right? Who wouldn’t want one! Then to end the study off, they thanked everyone and offered a complimentary unit to take home, one table had the new white ones on, and another table had the traditional black model… by the time everyone had left, all the black models were gone and the white ones remained, very few actually took the white ones realising this was their actual test.

“What users say and what they do are different.” — Jakob Nielsen,

What is UX Design then?

User Experience design is a problem-solving discipline focussed on building technology products that will solve the problems of the users wanting to use them in the first place.

The term ‘experience’ refers to the emotions of the end-users, and what differentiates great products is that they will create positive emotions for the users while they are helping them achieve their goals.

UX Design is a research based discipline, and we cannot do UX without research… that’s not UX Design. Design teams are equipped to make data-driven decisions based on research conducted with users, and the insights gained from that research.

A surface level understanding of UX is that it’s the way a product works, but once you delve deeper, you’ll understand that it’s all about the feeling the product evokes along the way as well. People want a feeling of being in control, confidence and trust are emotions you would want to evoke when using your products. Sadly a lot of products still evoke emotions of feeling out of control, no confidence and worst off all it makes some users feel stupid. A mistake on a system is never the mistake of a user, there’s always a better way to handle the interaction.

To learn this new way of thinking, one needs to understand that having the right mindset is the most important part. We need to develop a deep empathy for our users, observe and understand them. From there we would be equipped to constantly experiment and tweak to better meet their needs.

“Once you figure out the question, then the answer is relatively easy.” — Elon Musk

It’s an iterative process

Unlike some of the industries mentioned before, design which is based on our users needs, is an ever evolving target. It’s integral that we have a seat at the table upfront, but even more important is to understand that this is an iterative process. UX design done once, would yield very little long terms results, it’s something that has to evolve with a product. Every time elements change, it could change the emotions of the users and this would result in various approaches to problem-solve for the user to help them achieve their goals.

The only way we can ensure we’re constantly chasing the ever evolving design target is to talk to our users on a regular basis, constantly do research and bring any new insights into the product development lifecycle to ensure we’re addressing changing needs.

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” — Mark Twain

We’ve arrived

There is no question anymore whether design and UX design upfront is a good idea, the answer is absolutely yes. But don’t take my word for it, look at any silicon valley start-up, not one doesn’t have UX designers, when Sergey and Larry started Google they incorporated UX into Google right from the start as they realised the value it brings to business. Any VC firm in silicon valley insist that any start-up they invest in must have an UX competency to ensure they are building the right thing.

The trick is if you’re not solving the right problem, the best you can do is solve the wrong problem really well. When we follow a UX design process we are ensuring that we are solving the right problem. Ensuring we deliver the results and return on investment for the business.

In summary my life goal is to keep things simple, keep the user focussed on less at a time and help them achieve their goals by offering a solution that makes them confident along the way.

Keep up to date in real-time by following me on Twitter where I tweet all about building great products from a design, development, product management and strategy perspective.



Francois Brill

I’m an all-hands-on-deck product designer. I thrive when I have the opportunity to create something that is simple, beautiful & easy to use.