Great Design Is About Being Thoughtful

An interview with Yazin Akkawi, Founder of MSTQ

One of the great debates in the world of UI/UX right now is which side of the equation should take priority. Is it the underlying architecture of an app, website, or interface, or is it the paint that goes on top intended to “surprise and delight” the user?

Yazin Akkawi is the founder of MSTQ, an interactive agency specializing in UX/UI design, strategy, and technology, based in Chicago. Yazin’s perspective on the “great debate” is a valuable one: “It’s not one or the other. Great design is about being thoughtful.”

He explained how, in the most simple way, designing an intuitive, beautiful yet functional experience for a user is similar to the process you go through in your head when you’re buying a gift for someone.

“For example, when you buy your girlfriend flowers, you’re being thoughtful. You’re designing an experience for her. You’re questioning how the flowers look, how they feel, how they smell, how she’s going to interact with them. Do you present them in tissue paper? In a vase? It’s an experience, and as you design it, you make decisions based on how you think things will look through her eyes. That same mental process is what designers go through. It’s about being thoughtful,” said Yazin.

Recognizing A Great User Experience

Yazin explained that the best user experiences are the ones that work so seamlessly, you barely notice the complexity of what is going on right in front of you. Whereas the worst user experiences are universally known. Everyone can recognize a really bad user experience.

Photo credit: Yazin Akkawi

The reason why Yazin has placed such emphasis on the broader importance of being “thoughtful,” opposed to any one particular element of UI/UX design, is because he says, “Technology is becoming ubiquitous. People aren’t just designing for mobile apps or websites anymore. We’re now designing for experiences. Like the Amazon Echo, which is entirely voice operated. That’s still an experience. So the design isn’t visual, but it exists through sound and conversation. Or chat bots, or SMS and text enabled applications. Tech is becoming so fluid that designers are having to change out their tool kits and improve their soft skills. And at the end of the day, it always comes back to whether or not the user feels like the experience was designed for them. Whether or not it feels thoughtful.”

On the flip-side, Yazin raised the consequences of when “surprise and delight” isn’t done well, and how much more dramatically it can impact a consumer.

Earning A User’s Trust Takes Time

If a user ever feels that a system is not thoughtful enough, or they experience frustration using an interface (whether it be visual, text-based, etc.), you’ve lost them as a consumer. If you are shopping online for an item, for example, and you place the item in your cart, check out, but then need to create an account, get taken off-site, go through the process, and return, only to find your cart empty because of an error, you will immediately think less of the platform you’re using. In fact, you may end up abandoning the experience all together, and never returning—even if what you were shopping for was necessary or even cool.

“A user wants to be surprised and delighted, but they also will be to the first to throw your colorful masterpiece out the window if it doesn’t do what they want it to do.”

“Moments where you screw up that seamless process, you lose points with your user,” said Yazin. “And what’s so challenging about this relationship is that it decreases exponentially faster than it increases. It takes a long time to build up trust with users, but you can lose all that trust in an instant.”

This is why design teams with both UI designers and UX architects go to such great lengths to work well together. Being “thoughtful” is judged on both merits. A user wants to be surprised and delighted, but they also will be to the first to throw your colorful masterpiece out the window if it doesn’t do what they want it to do. “UI is about grabbing the eye of the user, and UX is about satisfying the underlying business goals. And you can’t have one or the other. It can’t be pretty but unusable, and it can’t be usable but look like it was made in the 90s,” said Yazin. “You have to have both in order to build something stunning, captivating, and successful.”

Nicolas Cole

About the Author Nicolas Cole

Nicolas Cole is an author and entrepreneur. His work has been published in Inc, TIME, Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and more. He tweets @nicolascole77.