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  • Writer's pictureJakob Nielsen

UX Roundup: UX Secrets | Figma AI | AI Style Variation | Dark AI | Respect for UX | User Research & AI | Claude 3.5

Summary: There are no secrets in UX | Figma GenUI | Image stylistic variations in generative AI | AI starting to be used for dark design | How to get respect for UX | More user researchers now using AI | Upgraded Claude LLM

UX Roundup for July 1, 2024. (Ideogram)

There Are No Secrets in UX

 All you have to do is to look.

There are no secrets in UX; just look, and you shall see. (Midjourney)

Our one secret in UX is this secret weapon: watching users use the design. That’s how we know what works. (Midjourney)

Astronomy is like UX in this regard. Heavenly objects remain the same, whether or not we look at them. But if you look, you shall see. There are no secrets of astronomy because anybody who looks will see the same stars and planets. However, you see more if looking with the proper instrument:

In 1610, Galileo Galilei was the first to see Saturn’s rings using his new telescope. However, due to the low resolution of his early telescope, he didn't identify them as rings. (He just observed that there was something around Saturn.) In 1659, using a next-generation telescope, Christiaan Huygens was the first to correctly classify these observations as rings. (Midjourney)

Should the “Buy” button be red or orange? Are mega-menus a good idea for our application? Do users spot our hamburger menu? Does Saturn have rings? Don’t spend time arguing these questions. Spend the time getting empirical data. Go look! (Midjourney)

Figma AI: New GenUI Features

Literally, 2 days after I posted my newsletter praising Uizard’s new Generative UI features, Figma announced similar AI features in the Config 2024 keynote. (As is my wont, I am literal in using the word “literally.” I dislike the figurative use of “literally.”)

Figma will have these new AI features:

  • Generative UI: Use AI to generate a draft prototype design based on a project description, beating the blank screen problem.

  • Tone-of-voice transformations for UX copy. I always recommend having a human editor review the content before shipping the final product, but this could be a great way to efficiently experiment with different tones at the prototyping stage. From demos, it seems that tone can be adjusted along two dimensions: Professional to Casual, and Concise to Expansive. Professional writers might want a few more tone dimensions, but this is a good start for continuous manipulation of this design variable.

  • Translate the prototype into other languages, for faster international user testing. (We all know that if it’s not fast and cheap, international research won’t get done — particularly not in the prototyping stage when there’s still time to make major changes to the UX.)

What’s better? Figma AI or Uizard Autodesigner? (Uizard is part of Miro.) I don’t know, but for the world’s users, I am happy to see competition in generative UI and in UI translation.

I am glad I had Leonardo generate multiple images to represent international user testing the first time I wrote about this topic. At the speed of new Generative UI product launches featuring autotranslation of UI copy, I may need to run all of them in future newsletter editions. Obviously, in real life, you would want to test your different design iterations in different countries, not always the same 3 cities I prompted for when making these images. (Leonardo)

Variations in Image Styles

All 4 illustrations in the above section on “There Are No Secrets in UX” were made with the same generative AI service: Midjourney, yet they are very different. In this case, I mainly achieved this goal by using various style references (a special Midjourney feature, abbreviated “sref” in the UI), but you can also use keyword variations in the prompt, or features in other tools such as the “preset styles” in Leonardo.

AI can create images in many different styles. Don’t settle for the standard look. Ironically, I had to use Leonardo for this image, since Midjourney didn’t have sufficient prompt adherence to draw a robot painting two different canvases in different artistic styles.

AI Dark Design

I am sorry to say that I have noticed more use of Ai for dark design. We have to fight this, and my first line of defense is always to call out dark design patterns to raise awareness.

In general, it’s good for UX that AI can produce extreme design individualization. However, this ability can be abused to make unwanted spam appear like genuine emails from people who know you. Here’s an example I received recently:

“Congratulations on your 1-year anniversary at UX Tigers as a Founder! I noticed your focus on pioneering usability and iterative design. Are you tired of time and cost to find the perfect voice for an audiobook/audio projects? XX can be your solution.”

This is clearly spam, but the first two sentences must have been generated by an AI that read my website. Just reading this start of the message makes it seem like genuine fan mail or possibly a first contact from somebody working in the UX field. Evil!

Sadly, AI can be used for evil. As always, AI is only a tool, and the human who abuses the tool is the real evil force. Rules and regulations should not attack and limit AI but should crack down on the abusers. I’m fully on board with huge fines for spammers and for dedicating significant law enforcement resources to catching them. (Midjourney)

How to Get Respect for UX

I enjoyed ADPList’s Design Leadership event in San Francisco last week — in particular meeting many interesting people in person. A sample of selfies posted to LinkedIn below. The modal job title on the attendee list was VP of Design or UX, though I was also happy to meet some recent graduates who will be tomorrow’s UX leaders. (It takes some guts for a newbie to join a leadership event, let alone approach me for a selfie, so Nazm Furniturewala and Dani Huang are people you should try to hire.)

The evening’s most interesting comment was by Arin Bhowmick, who is SAP’s Chief Design Officer. There was a discussion about the perennial question of how to get more respect for UX and the proverbial “seat at the table” where the company’s strategic decisions are made. I’m paraphrasing, but Bhowmick roughly said, that if you want to get something you never had before (that seat), then you must do something you never did before. That something UX must do is to create high profits for the business that the CEO recognizes as such. Companies don't care about design, they care about profitability.

Several other panelists made similar comments about the need to design for profitability. I think many of us have always aimed to do that, but UX people have traditionally been terrible at articulating how they create profits. (Two main ways: higher sales or lower costs.)

Some of the selfies with Jakob that attendees at the ADPList design leadership event posted on LinkedIn. Top row (L to R): Dani Huang, Arin Bhowmick (quoted above), Kuldeep Kelkar, Nazm Furniturewala. Bottom row (L to R): LottieFiles team, Kazumi Terada, Paul Manzione. (LottieFiles sponsored the event: Thank you! I ate a lot of oysters on your dime.)

More User Researchers Now Use AI

User Interviews is a great service for recruiting usability study participants. They also conduct an annual survey of user researchers, and what they annoyingly call PWDR (“people who do research,” even if that’s not their official job title). The 2024 report is now out.

Changes from one year to the next are rarely important since they may reflect random fluctuations or fads, rather than true trends. In one case, however, I do want to report a single-year change:

The percentage of user researchers who use AI to support their research increased dramatically:

  • 2023: 20%

  • 2024: 56%

When a statistic almost triples in a single year, you can tell that the game’s afoot, to quote our old friend, Sherlock Holmes. A further 28% of user researchers said they “plan” to include AI in their research. Since it’s been very clear for about a year now that you will not have an employable future in UX without being an expert on AI, one will hope that these laggards get going soon. Presumably, the remaining few percent of user researchers who neither use AI nor have plans to do so expect to retire within the next two years.

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes and bring out the big magnifying glass to spot the enormous growth in one year in the number of UX researchers who deploy AI for their research. (Midjourney)

A few other data nuggets from the report. There’s much more, so do click that link.

  • The mean number of studies that a researcher conducted during the last 6 months was 12, corresponding to 24 studies per year, per researcher. Even though I have often advocated weekly user research as a part of my “discount usability” approach, I’m still pleased that the number is so relatively high

  • 23% of respondents were negative about the future of the user research industry. (I disagree and think there’s a great future for user research, as software keeps eating the world.) In comparison, 36% were negative about their path for growth at their current company. The difference between these two numbers makes sense since most of the growth for UX, in general, and user research, in particular, will come from the pancaking of UX, which broadens it to more companies while reducing the number of management levels within existing companies.

  • Slightly more longitudinal data, thus more likely to reflect a true trend: The percentage of respondents who track the impact of their user research increased from 68% in 2022 to 87% in 2024.

User testing is the most common form of user research: watch a representative user performing realistic tasks with your design. On average, UX researchers run 24 studies per year, so if they follow my advice to test 5 users in each study, that means that they get to observe 120 different customers per year. This is a good empirical base for making design decisions. (Midjourney)

Claude Releases Version 3.5

Claude has released an upgraded version of its large language model, called Claude 3.5. As indicated by the dot-numbering scheme, this is not a full step-up in AI capabilities, as would have warranted a “4.0” version number. But it’s better than the old Claude 3 (which was almost as good as GPT-4).

Most important, the new Claude 3.5 Sonnet is better than the old Claude 3 Opus. These weird Sonnet and Opus monickers refer to the size of the underlying model, with Opus being much larger than Sonnet. The size is reflected in the cost of running the model.

On Poe, Claude 3 Opus costs 2,000 credits per chat message, whereas Claude 3.0 Sonnet and Claude 3.5 Sonnet both cost 200 credits per message. A price drop of 90%, and yet better results, going from 3 Opus to 3.5 Sonnet!

To test the model, I gave it two tasks: Write a 100-word explanation of Jakob’s Law of the Internet User Experience (follow the link to see my human-written article about my law), and write a sonnet about Jakob’s Law. Here’s what I got. Pretty good, except that the “100 word” explanation runs to 146 words (language models still can’t count). I also asked Claude 3.5 Sonnet to suggest an image to go with this content about Jakob’s Law. It suggested the following, which I rendered with Midjourney:

A sheep wants to go where all the other sheep are. While this is true, I don’t think Claude 3.5 Sonnet quite considered that “being a sheep” has too negative connotations in Western culture to be a great metaphor for Jakob’s Law, where it’s positive for a new design to follow in the footsteps of the designs users already know. (Midjourney)

Explanation by Claude 3.5 Sonnet:

Jakob's Law of the Internet User Experience, formulated by usability expert Jakob Nielsen, states that users spend most of their time on other websites, not yours. This principle emphasizes that users develop expectations about how websites should function based on their cumulative experiences across the internet. Consequently, when designing a website, it's crucial to align with established conventions and patterns that users are already familiar with.

For UX designers, this law underscores the importance of consistency and familiarity in design. A compelling example is the shopping cart icon commonly used in e-commerce sites. Users instantly recognize this symbol and understand its purpose, streamlining their shopping experience. Deviating from this convention by using an unfamiliar icon or terminology could confuse users, potentially leading to abandoned carts and lost sales. By adhering to Jakob's Law, designers can create intuitive interfaces that meet user expectations and enhance overall usability.

Sonnet by Claude 3.5 Sonnet:

In realms of code where users roam and click, A law holds true, as Jakob Nielsen taught: That habits formed on sites both large and slick Shape expectations, leaving patterns wrought.

The user's time, a precious, fleeting thing, Is spent on pages far beyond your own. Their familiarity, a guiding string, Leads them through interfaces, known and shown.

So heed this wisdom, designers of the web, And craft your sites with conventions in mind. For user comfort, let not your ego ebb, But build on foundations they easily find.

In following the paths well-trodden and clear, You'll guide your users, keeping frustration far from here



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