From Westeros to the Golden Ratio: 3 Sources of UX Design Inspiration
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A good user experience must be both thoughtfully intuitive and aesthetically pleasing. But to be exceptional? It must be built with a unique approach to empathy and emotion. To find a unique approach, you have to explore unconventional sources. Here are three of mine:
Ned Stark and the power of unexpected behavior
*Game of Thrones Season 1 spoilers to follow.*
In UX, we often ask, “does this element or interaction behave the way the user expects?” While expected behavior is crucial for usability, I’ve come to understand the power of unexpected behavior by moonlighting as a self-proclaimed TV critic. In the greatest shows, emotional revelations and twists — big or small — land because they are consistent with the story world and character journey, but at the same time, are surprising beats from the writer. This paradox of combining consistency and surprise is a part of what makes Game of Thrones so exciting. In the Season 1 finale Ned Stark, the hero and main protagonist, is swiftly beheaded. Dead. Gone forever. This emotionally devastating moment is fantastic storytelling that both completely changed the landscape for seasons to come and tracked with what we understood of Ned and Westeros. In that moment, the writers taught us how to watch their show and we trusted them to continue telling the story.
Show your users that you still have it in you to surprise them, whether it is through unexpected, but delightful UI (like the animation in Mailchimp’s recent redesign) or a design solution that builds on your brand’s narrative while upending the status quo (like Ideo’s nontraditional campaign for police reform).
How examining your parents can foster empathy in design
You don’t have to look far to continue developing yourself as an empathetic being and designer. You can start by getting to know your parents, older family members, or caretakers. In our youth we see our parents as one-dimensional people who exist to care for us. We often forget that they have feelings and, dare I say, a whole life outside of our existence. Understanding this will do wonders for your ability to empathize. Talk to them about them.Try to imagine them as children, in elementary school, in high school, nervously getting ready for a first date, breaking rules. In my experience, this has pushed me to be a better, more patient, and more inquisitive listener.
On a larger scale, consider your family as a design system: your parents were influenced by their parents, you were influenced by yours. Things change but many underlying patterns that inform our behavior and outlook on life endure through generations. As a child of parents who emigrated from the West Indies, I also analyze these systems through a multicultural lens. For example, it’s a common stereotype that Caribbean parents believe that higher education and traditional career paths in law and medicine are the only acceptable paths to success in this country. For them (and, I believe, many immigrant families) this stems from trying to create stability and a financial safety net in a country where many had to start over with nothing. This pressure lives on in many first-generation children and in my freelance design work with first-gen clients beginning their careers in the arts or entrepreneurship, understanding that pressure allowed me to tailor my style and services to address that pain point.
We are shaped by more than what happens on our screens. Understanding users as human-beings with full lives has been an asset for me in my user research, testing, and designs for our guest-facing products at Domio.
Creative problem-solving with the other golden ratio
My approach to design is strongly influenced by other mediums. Though l work with digital products, I am enamored with design in the physical world. Architecture, in particular, has been a key source of inspiration for me. Through my family’s real estate work with multidisciplinary architecture firms, I’ve been able to borrow from architects’ design approaches. Successfully building a home requires you to work within the bounds of what I like to call The Other Golden Ratio — function, beauty, and value — and using this framework has allowed me to develop a fresh perspective on my own design challenges.
Function, or usability, is as crucial here as it is in UX. How might a resident flow from one room to the next? What pain points might they encounter as they try to collect their mail, sleep at night, or open a closet door? And when an architect asks themselves these questions about the minutiae of everyday life, they must also consider the value of each design solution, for example the cost of the materials or implementation methods, as well as how long they’ll hold up.
Then there is beauty. This is someone’s home, a place where they will find comfort and solace. The physical design must incorporate moments of delight and charm to invite future residents to build their lives within it. Furthermore, pixel perfection is now not just a visual issue, but an essential step to ensure that everything can fit within your structure — that base moulding and hardwood floor work together just so.
On the design team at Domio, we think deeply about how we can create moments of delight in our products. As I work on our booking and checkout flow, I’ve been inspired to think like an architect and consider how can I optimize the way users move through every “room” of the flow and give them both valuable and captivatingly lived-in moments along the way.
We live in a big, beautiful world filled with endless sources of ingenuity. Whether you find inspiration in a quiet moment with your family or dragons flying high over Winterfell, I hope these tips give you a jumping off point to find your own unique way to continue growing your empathy and creative thinking. And most of all, enjoy the journey!
A special shoutout to my teammates who helped with this blog post: Umer Usman and Yasmin Kothari for amazing editing feedback and my first reader, Sonya Falcon, for lending her skills to a fire header image.
Segacy is a product designer at Domio. When she’s not designing delightful experiences for our guests she can be found trying to perfect the art of eating Trinidadian roti.
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