Clients often ask us: “Have you designed for our domain before? Do you have examples from our domain?” Occasionally, our clients also emphasize, “Our domain is unique and different”. Although, it sounds like a simple question, it is a challenging one, especially if there aren’t any examples from that specific domain, and if our clients are just starting their UX journey.
Does UX Design depend on domain knowledge or is it domain-agnostic? How much knowledge / expertise / information should designers possess of a domain to create design that is meaningful and usable? What role does domain play in User Experience Design?
The answer is not as simple as a YES or a NO.
Users and their roles are different for different domains, so the expectations they have of the products also vary from one domain to another. Users expect to perform certain tasks in a certain way, and that is to some extent dependent on the domain. More importantly, their perceptions and behaviour – how they think and what they do – differs when interacting with products from different domains. Domain directly impacts the content of the product. Users are familiar with a certain tone, voice, language and acronyms that are common to their domain. Also, the information hierarchy – organization of information – differs as per the domain. For example, a supervisor working in a garment factory may use a certain categorization of products suitable for the context – the garment factory. However, the same user when shopping online may expect a completely different information hierarchy for apparels. The conventions, standards, and guidelines for a particular domain could also dominate the design of products.
So then, how much domain knowledge does a designer need, to design for an unfamiliar domain? Though users and their roles are different, users often exhibit similar contextual behaviors and attitudes when interacting with products. It is important for designers to understand the interaction behavior and the tasks / subtasks that users perform. The knowledge of how tasks work in other domains can be easily brought over to the unfamiliar domain with a process we call Task Analysis.
It is important to know the content / language users are familiar with. If the designer has not designed for that particular domain earlier, she or he can obtain this information during initial research. Initial research typically involves conversations with stakeholders, subject matter experts, and users. In addition, designers use methods and tools such as card sorting to uncover patterns of information organization from users.
Designers need not be experts in a domain to be able to design for it. They need to understand the users’ mental model and task breakdown, discover interaction patterns that users are familiar with, and use the language of the users. By applying processes and methods of User Centeredness, clients can de-risk their UX journey.