7 Rules of User Experience Design (+ an extra)

Academy Xi
6 min readJul 7, 2016

Last week, we finished an amazing User Experience Design Course at Academy Xi, inviting 35 industry folk to a BBQ meet and greet to meet and assess the magnificent work of our students. Being mid-way through the current course and moving students into Sprint Design, we’re always checking in with students to see how we can be of better service to them.

As with all startups, we’ve at times adopted a “dive in and get it done” attitude at Academy Xi, sometimes with a good measure of success and other times we’ve had the opportunity to reflect and ask “how could we have done that better?”.

Being the lead User Experience Design instructor at Xi, at times a process can appear to be a mechanical, unemotional set of rules. As we’ve all experienced, there is no textbook approach to solving problems as designers.

”The craft to solving problems is knowing what to do and when to do it.”

When created well, a process or set of rules become a structural toolkit that allows us to pick and choose the correct approaches for a customer, ensuring we help them achieve their objectives:

Why do we solve problems within the structure of a process?

So we don’t build the wrong usable thing.

Here’s a true short story about a team of Ethnographic researchers who were in Africa eager to create a better experience for local villagers. Observing the women walking miles each morning to collect water for the village, the researchers decided to make the women’s lives easier by building a water well in the middle of the village.

What a great idea!

So they built the well, taught the villagers how to use it and returned the next morning to find that the well had been destroyed.

Surely the villagers wouldn’t destroy something so useful? Something that would improve their lives?

…and so begins our philosophical guidelines to creating meaningful experiences.


What the researchers didn’t do was ask the women what they actually wanted. By solving a perceived problem (often referred to as an assumption), the researchers were solving problems in a way that mattered to themselves, in a way that fit into their own contexts and in a way that satisfied their own realities.

Had the researchers taken the time to observe and interview the women in context, they’d have learned that the two hours collecting water each morning was time for them to gossip about their husbands.

Of course the water well could have made their lives easier, but it’s not what the women wanted.

Typical research activities that we teach:

  • One on one interviews
  • Observation and contextual inquiries
  • Personas & Proto-personas
  • Customer Journeys


That existential question “why am I here?” has extended to your business life and has a twin question; “what is your vision?”

This is a lengthy process that seems so abstract until of course, you nail it. For us, it’s simple: we’re here to improve people’s lives by creating meaningful digital and analogue experiences that invoke a long lasting relationship with your brand.

By improving peoples lives we mean yours, your teams and your customers.

Typical visioning activities and UX exercises we use at Academy Xi:

  • Context and objective exercises
  • Service promises
  • Design challenge activities
  • Service ideation and creation workshops
  • Accelerated design thinking workshops


Who are the people in their lives that matter? Who are the people that influence their decision-making?

What does success mean for your customer? What is it that keeps them up at night?

Why do they need you? Why don’t they need you? How do they really really feel about you…and your competition?

Where is the customer when they’re interacting with you? Where are you when your customer needs you?

When do we show up and be of service to our customers? When do we add value and meaningful interactions?

How might we provide services that make their lives better?

This is often known to the UX world as the 5 W’s and H.

[bctt tweet=”Asking the right questions and knowing where to look is a key component of User Experience Design.” username=”academyxi”]

Asking the right questions and knowing where to look is a key component of User Experience Design. At Academy Xi we research, research and research some more to find the gems that appear outside of the assumption space:

  • Observation techniques
  • Interviews
  • Desktop research
  • Comparative studies
  • Competitor reviews
  • Participatory design workshops


What are your competitors up to? More importantly, how do your customers feel about and interact with your competitors?

What are they doing well? (that’s your baseline). What are they doing poorly? (that’s your opportunity). What haven’t they thought of — yet? (that’s your point of difference).

Competition makes us all better, however, it becomes immaterial when we know ourselves and why we’re in business. By knowing ourselves and our competitors, we carve our own turf.

  • Competitor analysis
  • Trend assessments
  • Rapid feature exploration
  • Minimum Viable Product
  • Vision setting
  • Personas
  • Customer journeys
  • Opportunity identification


Get your pencils out and sketch ideas. Test them. Refine them. Explore more ideas. Expand concepts. Build them. Test again. Sacrifice them. Start again. Then pick something.

Ideas are limitless and the barriers to prototyping are so low, you have no excuse not to play.

Go ahead. Play. It’s quick. It’s serious fun.

[bctt tweet=”Play. Test. Sacrifice. Repeat.” username=”academyxi”]

At Academy Xi, we tend to play with:

  • Paper
  • Whiteboards
  • Design thinking
  • Participatory design
  • Rapid mobile prototyping
  • Guerilla testing


Don’t fall for that trap — the quest for perfection will stall you into irrelevance.

The concept of perfection must be reinterpreted to Perfect For Right Now.

The pace at which change happens means that by the time we’ve even glimpsed what perfection may look like, the game has changed.

It’s now about speed and evolution. It’s perfect for right now.

At Academy Xi, perfection is:

  • a collaborative process
  • an MVP
  • a next phase
  • the marriage of UX Design and agile design sprints


…it goes beyond being skin deep and it matters.

Breathing life and love into your brand and your products, design forms the third part of the Holy Trinity of User Experience:

  1. Usability
  2. Utility
  3. Desirability

We believe form and function are co-joined twins; one exists with the other and because of the other.

It’s insightful design that creates an emotional connection between your customer and your service.


Next time you fly, pay attention to the airline safety demonstration (excuse the paraphrasing); “in the event of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting other passengers.”

Why? Because you’re only good to others when you’re useful and able.

Eat well, rest well, think well, be well, do well.

You’re worth it.

Our next User Experience Design courses are fast approaching. Don’t miss out!



Academy Xi

Expert-led courses and workshops in User Experience Design, Digital Marketing, Software Engineering, Data Analytics and more. Visit https://academyxi.com/