Magazine Contacts

UX Design

02 April 2024 — 5 minutes read

My name is Margherita Pillan and I’m a Professor at the Design Department of Politecnico di Milano. I deal with a lot of things: Interaction Design, Interface Design, Service Design, but today I would like to talk about UX Design, which is the discipline I teach in the Master's Degree Course, it’s the discipline on which I do research and it’s the competence I bring in my collaboration with various companies.

What is UX Design?

UX Design is a set of techniques aimed at understanding people's needs, people's behaviors, the mental models that somehow govern the way people make decisions. To explain what this is all about, however, we need to take a step back.
For companies and those involved in innovation, it’s very easy, thanks to digital technologies, to create new services, new applications, while it’s much more difficult to invent and implement applications, services and products based on technologies that work and that are able to respond to people's needs.
Faced with the fact that the history of digital innovation is full of what we might call failures or false starts, it has become necessary to develop the ability to investigate people's needs, behaviors, priorities and motivations in order to develop technology solutions that work.
This is what we do research on, and we carry out activities in this field for companies, to help them understand how, faced with all the possibilities that technologies offer today, they can develop solutions that are more likely to succeed.

This is very important precisely because we have all realized that developing new technologies is not enough to create progress, to create change. In recent years we have learnt how strong is the need for people to have continuity between the old and the new, and we have also realized that what works on paper does not always work in real life. This is also very important because of the challenges we are facing and in relation to the sustainable goals that will inevitably require many changes of people’s behaviour, in their expectations, in their way of understanding and framing the quality of life.

I am currently working with a variety of techniques, including traditional ethnography, digital ethnography and the study of data that can be obtained from the web, to understand the direction in which innovation should go. We also use these techniques to change behaviors and develop solutions that can be successful for environmental and social sustainability. Behavioral change is a difficult challenge, but technology can help us a lot if we understand how people think and what factors can facilitate this change.

What are the fields of application of UX Design?

UX Design originated in the field of digital application development. In the beginning, it was mainly used to design the architecture of information functions and interfaces of applications of all digital types. Today, however, UX design is applied in many other areas where digitalization is involved, but not only. Consider, for example, the redesign of medical equipment used in a hospital environment. To design a good interface, a good medical device, it’s necessary to understand all the constraints and needs of the context and the modus operandi of those who will use it. UX Design can be used to redesign products or services that will be used in contexts with special needs.
It can be used, for example, in relation to consumer services that will appeal to all citizens. We know how important it would be to digitalize interactions between the public administration and the citizen, and we know how difficult it is, in Italy and elsewhere, to get citizens to interact with public institutions and services through digital channels. So digital channels, the digital interfaces, have to adapt to the needs of citizens.

Today, UX Design is also used by companies to rethink the interaction model and the type of relationship with their clients, so it can also be a set of skills that can contribute to the renewal of a company's image and its communication.

The areas in which Design expresses its skills are growing and there is also a change in the methods and tools. Design is becoming more and more rigorous, more and more equipped with objective methodologies. UX Design is one of the branches of design that continues to develop and strengthen its methodologies in order to produce knowledge that is somehow verifiable, based on objective data.
So, our research involves, from a certain point of view, the whole field of data, the production, collection and processing of data, to better understand people's behaviors and needs, and also all the testing activities, based on objective examinations of what people's reactions are when they interact with a service or a product in certain contexts.

In recent years, we have strengthened our collaboration with our bioengineering colleagues in the development of experience analysis techniques that produce objective information on, for example, the fatigue, cognitive effort or pleasure that people experience in their interaction with media, services, games, environments and with solutions of various kinds.

It is well known that Design is a discipline that draws on knowledge from other disciplines, and UX Design is no exception. A UX designer is a researcher, a scientist, who uses skills that come from the world of cognitive psychology, perception studies, sociological studies, neuroscience and the whole world of data analysis.

I would like to emphasize the fact that UX designers remain designers because the perspective with which they analyze, study, and learn from observing people's behaviors always has as its endpoint the satisfaction of those who will use the product, and this is what makes the difference. They remain designers because, even in the analysis phase, they bring to the table their creativity, their ability to empathize with people, their values and their personal vision. So even though UX design is a rigorous activity based on protocols and experimental measurements, it is still a design activity and young people understand this very well. Our students understand that it is an activity in which, once again, creativity and the expression of values and vision play a fundamental role.

The UX designer is a professional who knows how to carry out rigorous research on the people for whom the innovation is intended. Today, all social actors, all citizens and also designers are faced with the great challenges of our time and with the need to contribute to a more sustainable development from all points of view.

I believe that today we have the tools to tackle the future in a spirit of cooperation, thanks to developments in technology on the one hand, but also in knowledge that describes human complexity. Design can play a fundamental role by offering its traditional and new knowledge in order to jointly invent a highly desirable and more sustainable future.