What do method acting & UX design have in common?
Feb 29, 2016
Like the majority of UX designers in the world, I never daydreamed of becoming a UX designer when I was a little girl. Before I was hooked on user experience, I was hooked on theatre, and wanted nothing more than to be an actress. Theatre stuck with me through high school and I even started college as a theatre major. Not long into my college career, I explored many different majors and ultimately discovered my passion for UX design.
I can understand how it may appear to be a bit of a jump from being on stage quoting Shakespeare to diagramming user flows, but hear me out.
Act II: Method Acting
By now, I’m sure you’ve probably heard the term method acting. Just think of Heath Ledger holing himself up in his apartment for months on end, running on two hours of sleep a night to get into the role of the Joker. That’s a very extreme case, but essentially it’s the process of giving up who you are in the attempt to understand someone else.
How does one step into someone else’s shoes? Traditionally, this involves careful consideration of the character’s motives and background and then personally connecting to that through life experiences. This sort of thinking is the same process a UX designer goes through when designing a website or app: you need to step into your user’s shoes and consider their motives and backgrounds. That is definitely easier said than done. A lot of times, when first approaching a website from a design aspect, there are tons of opinions about what is interesting or important. However, those opinions are rarely the same as what the users actually find interesting.
There are many parallels between UX and method acting, but at the heart we each draw on our own experiences to establish an emotional connection with the characters, or users, and this creates a positive human engagement.
Act III: Empathy
A lot of times it’s easy to look at the analytics and customer patterns to gather ideas of a website’s key areas. These can then get special attention and treated with the “latest and greatest” content and design. Sometimes you discover problems that you didn’t even know were problems…yet. By empathizing with the users and understanding their needs, wants, and desires you can remove yourself from the project and start to see solutions to problems that didn’t even exist.
Act IV: An understanding of emotions (and how to design for them)
Above is a remapping of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to the needs of a user. We know that a site needs to be functional, but often forget that a user needs to find it pleasurable. Humans are emotional creatures after all, so it’s important to connect on an emotional level.
The challenge is that each user has a different amount of emotional need. What we must do is identify that need, then use it to the advantage of a website. Engineers, for example, most likely do not want a warm connection. Being very logical, they may find the most pleasure in facts and data. A new mom, on the other hand, may find the most pleasure in that warm human connection that reminds her of her family.
Act V: Tips and Tricks
Unfortunately, in the real world we can’t simply get electrocuted and magically read our users’ minds (Here’s looking at you, Mel Gibson circa 2000). So how does one apply method acting to getting into the mindset of a user? I’m so glad you asked, because here’s short a list:
- Experience. We have all experienced a terrible website. You know the one, it has a gradient font and an animated cursor (ahem, my old Myspace page). It’s very easy to recall what functionality didn’t work or large pain points. The more sites you experience, the better you can inform your design decisions.
- Observe. Observe the target audience as they interact with a site or prototype. It’s just as important (if not more) to observe their body language, as well as what the user is saying. What expression is on their face? Are they getting antsy or impatient? You can use observation to understand what the user is feeling.
- Explore. The Internet is HUGE. Previously, I mentioned the importance of experience. Sometimes your experience of a site is just one type. You can get an idea of the bigger picture through social media, reviews, blogs, and forums (to name a few). Read what people are saying because, believe me, they will let you know why they liked or didn’t like something.
Act VI: Final Act
I’m not saying that all UX designers could be actors…or that all actors could be UX designers. But I do think their foundation and motivation for understanding the users, or characters, are the same. Who knows, maybe you should take a stab at it?
About Jillian: My cats think I’m the food-bringer, my parents think I’m a web developer, but really I’m a user advocate with a passion for making people’s lives better through problem-solving and design. Chat me up on Twitter at @jilliancairco.