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Venture architects, software engineers, UX designers — more and more jobs in the automotive sector are different from traditional business occupations. I am an UX designer and explain to you what I am doing for the Daimler incubator Lab1886 and why my job is a bit like raising children.
It’s an evening in late summer somewhere on the outskirts of my home town. In the distance you can hear the voices of people at the local public swimming pool. The weather is still warm, and the table has been set for our family dinner. I’m sitting opposite my grandmother in the garden. And she asks me the inevitable question: “My dear girl, what kind of work are you doing now?” Although I’ve been working as a UX designer for several years, I still have to search for the right simple words.
UX= User Experience
Sometimes it’s not so easy to describe your own occupation — especially if it involves activities that people consider new and different. However, the process of shaping users’ experience of products and buildings in terms of stability, usefulness, and beauty has been a well-defined challenge since the time of the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius.
And because my family members and relatives regularly ask me lots of questions about my job, I’ve had to explain it lots of times.
All of us have had this kind of experience: We want to book a vacation, buy shoes or read the weather forecast online, but for some reason it’s not working. We’re getting fault messages we don’t understand and landing on pages we didn’t want to go to. Out of sheer frustration, we postpone this task — or we never look for this product again online.
A user should have the right to expect convenience.
Pleasure due to purpose, concept, and practicality
Occupations like mine have been created in order to relieve users of as much work as possible. The purpose, concept, and practicality of a product should be understandable immediately. And if the product is also fun to use, the UX designer has done her job well.
While I was working on my master’s thesis on apps as a student of business communication, I noticed how important it is for companies to present themselves effectively on mobile devices and offer well-functioning apps.
In the job I do today, I enable people to enjoy using applications such as websites, apps, and software programs. My team and I make sure that the applications we think up are really improving their users’ lives. And we also want these applications to be as easy as possible to use. Why are we doing this? Because these aspects are key factors in a digital product’s success or failure.
A focus on the user
In many cases, the idea behind a digital product is good, but using the product is much too complicated. As a result, the product will quickly disappear from the market. By now, leading companies have realized that they have to focus on the users of their programs or products. Daimler AG has been aligning its marketing and sales strategy with the “best customer experience” for quite a while now. Only if we can empathize with the users and get feedback from them can we help to create applications that can hold their own on the market.
Five steps to intuitive operation
For example, for a project such as a smartphone app we use the following procedure, which is divided into five main steps.
In the first step we have to “understand.” What is our target group like? In the second, we think about potential problems of the kind that we could solve. In the third, we gather ideas that could answer the first two sets of questions. Next, we implement these ideas: We visualize our planned product, sometimes using modeling clay, paper or Lego bricks. In the fifth step, we run tests to see how the prototypes are received by a selected group of users.
If the fifth step is successful, we can really start to develop the product in detail and program it. We have to test the product with real users again and again so that we have a constant flow of feedback into the development process. At the end of the process, we hope to have a product that can be easily operated and helps the user in some way.
How to become a UX designer
There are many ways to become a UX designer — the possible career paths are extremely varied. But it doesn’t matter whether you’ve studied design, business management, psychology or communications. The most important thing is that you should have a deep inner need to understand relationships and find new solutions that make the world easier for users.
There’s also another rule that is just as important for us as for others: Because the world around us and our users is constantly changing, it’s important to stay abreast of new technologies, methods, programs, and modes of operation and to think about them. Incidentally, the last assignment I was really proud of is the website of my employer, Lab1886.
As a rule, large companies commission external agencies to provide them with the concept for their “online living room.” Fortunately, we’ve got our own experts in-house — at four locations on three continents: Atlanta, Berlin, Stuttgart, and Beijing.
My current project is certainly the most interesting one, but I’m not allowed to write anything about it yet. That’s because at the innovation laboratory of Daimler AG we’re working on ideas that are on the way to becoming business models.
UX design is a bit like raising children
The really important aspect of my job became clear to me when I recently became a mother. I realized that UX design is not so very different from raising a child. That’s because we want children and users alike to find their way around easily. We’d like to make their lives easier without burdening them with too many explanations.
- Find out people’s needs and help to fill them.
- Beginnings are always difficult — so it’s important to try things out.
- Give children and users the opportunity to try things out for themselves. Help them out only if it’s necessary.
- Building a good relationship requires time and lots of love.
Maybe I should explain to my son early on what his mom does for a living. But it’s also possible that in 20 years I’ll be sitting at the dining table asking him questions and he’ll be desperately trying to explain to me what his daily work is all about.
Lab1886 is an independent innovation laboratory within Daimler AG. Here we identify and incubate new business ideas, which may fall outside Daimler’s core business areas, and develop them to market maturity. The goal is to speed up the development from the idea to the product or the business model and thus safeguard a sustainable and profitable future for Daimler AG.
Lab1886 combines the best aspects of startups and the business world. At Lab1886, Daimler deliberately promotes cross-company cooperation that is independent of specific business units. Lab1886 has all the resources and expertise it needs for this purpose, as well as over ten years of experience in implementing new business models. Within this free space, our colleagues can work in a focused way within flat hierarchies and a creative atmosphere. The innovation laboratory operates in four locations on three continents: Stuttgart and Berlin in Germany, Beijing in China, and Atlanta in the U.S.