SMPL Q&A: 3 questions on the relationship between comedy and UX design with Alex Stark

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SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview experts on all things relevant to branding, design and simplicity. In this Q&A we speak with UX strategist Alex Stark about what being a comedian has taught her about UX design. 

You mentioned that you’re a comedian—what do UX designers and comedians have in common?

They’re delivering to a frustrated audience. But it’s a good thing! In fact, they both work to recognize this frustration and answer it with a joyful and connected experience.

Think of your favorite SNL sketch or stand-up bit. Some of the funniest moments come from a comedian identifying an everyday frustration (e.g., the “what’s the deal with airplane food?!” classic). Audience members relate and feel understood, appreciating that someone finally put her finger on that annoying thing that we all experience. And there’s something that feels so good about feeling understood! By acknowledging that frustration, we’re given permission to recognize it, release it and laugh about it. Joy accomplished.

User experience design operates on a similar path of understanding who the user is, what she needs and, especially, what frustrates her about a process. Like comedians, designers need to recognize the pain points so that the user feels understood, and so they can be resolved. We’ve all pushed a “pull” door or accidentally favorited an Instagram post. Smart designs understand us, acknowledge our shared frustrations and provide a workaround that alleviates that stress (e.g., preventing us from favoriting our crush’s post from 32 weeks ago). Joy accomplished.

How does understanding your audience induce customer trust?

Truth in comedy reigns supreme, and the same is true when designing a branded experience. The funniest jokes are those that are based in honest experiences and reactions. We love watching Jimmy Fallon break on stage because we get to see his genuine uncontrollable reaction in a hilarious situation. It’s endearing and comforting to see a person’s honest self, or a brand’s true intent. By understanding an audience and delivering exactly what is needed, a brand creates trust. This might mean being clear about the purpose of a website or addressing user frustrations behind the scenes of an app. It may not bring on belly laughs, but it will create repeat customers.

What are examples of exemplary UX design?  

From curling irons that automatically turn off after 20 minutes to predictive locations on Google Maps, exemplary UX design is all around us. But some of the best examples are the easiest to miss—that’s, in fact, the point. Users aren’t expected to marvel at the fantastic implementation of an error prevention message (are you sure you want to quit without saving?), but that’s exactly the kind of UX design that saves users from intense frustration (and hours of re-creating that lost client deck).

For those brands that are looking for laughs in their designs, go for a callback. Comedians love to reference jokes from earlier in a set and, apparently, so does Google (the April Fool’s 8-bit version of Google Maps, anyone?).

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