UX what? – An interview with Marli Ritter.

We’ve recently decided to start focusing usability improvements based on a proper User Experience (or best known as UX) audit. This audit was conducted by Marli Ritter, who I came to know many years back while we were working for the same company. Even though Marli was a Graphic Designer when we first met, she’s now a professional UX Architect in Cape Town, South Africa.

WS: As a UX architect, how would you define UX?

MR: UX is when you do anything in your power to create a digital product so awesome that people enjoy using it so much that they’re compelled to nag friends to use it too.

WS: What is the most interesting project you have worked on in the UX field?

MR:  I’ve been privileged to have worked at some great companies on many interesting projects, but I would say my favourite would be working on Travelstart’s checkout flow. Travelstart is one of Africa’s largest online booking websites offering flights, hotel bookings, car rental, vacation packages and other travel services.

It’s inevitable that you’ll be confronted with several language and cultural challenges working on a digital product that’s live in 14 different countries, from Africa all the way to Europe. For example, in certain African countries, online scams are a real problem and it’s your task as a UX specialist to make sure your users from that country feel comfortable throughout the entire checkout flow. At any time during this process, something as small as the wrong tone for instructions, or no presence of financial logos to enforce trust, can trigger fear and the user can abandon the website.


WS: I have only recently became aware of the term User Experience. Where and when did this methodology came into existence?

MR: Everyone thinks UX is a fairly new concept that only started in the past couple of years, but the matter of fact is UX originated in the early 19th century from an American Engineer, Frederick Taylor, who pioneered the Industrial Revolution. He created a methodology called Taylorism which focused on how workers interact with their tools to complete tasks efficiently. His focus was on the interaction between humans and physical tools, which later evolved to humans and technology. During the 90s, Don Norman, a psychologist, joined Apple and created the term User Experience.


WS: From my own research I have learnt that UX leans towards the emotional aspects of Human / Computer interaction. Why should I, as a software developer, care about that?

MR: Knowing how to interact with the user on an emotional level is very important; but that’s only one part of the magnificent world of UX. Each person in the production cycle of a product has an important role to play in the overall UX of a product. UX Researchers focus on the data, UX Designers focus on the user’s journey and interaction with the product, while UI Designers make sure the UI is supporting the functionality and interaction.

Software Developers are the key to making the UX dream a reality. Without their insights on best technical practices, loading times, available UI animations with the respective frameworks, etc., the essence of a great user-friendly piece of functionality is pointless. As you can see, each person in the production cycle has a specialised field which adds to the success of an enjoyable user experience on a digital product. UX is not only one person’s job.


WS: From what I have read about UX, I have come to notice that it’s a very wide (and seemingly daunting) thing to get into. For a beginner like myself who wants to get into UX, where should I start?

MR: UX touches on a wide variety of topics and the list of resources online is endless; some not as good as others though as information can be very opinionated, unfortunately. I would suggest starting at the basics of what HCI (Human Computer Interaction) is and looking at articles from the Nielsen Norman Group. The ‘The Design of everyday things’ by Don Norman is also a must read. From there you’ll be in the UX rabbit hole and there’s no turning back!


WS: Are there any UX tools or applications that designers or developers can use to help improve their designs or applications?

MR: It depends on what your UX goal is. If you want to make a career change and become a UX designer then you’ll need to get familiar with UX methodologies such as wireframes, prototyping, research, usability testing and tools such as AXURE, Balsamiq, etc.

But from a basic point of view the most beneficial design / development tools are Nielsen Norman Group’s Heuristic principles, Google’s Material Design Guidelines & IOS Human Interface Design Guidelines.

The latter is mistaken to be UI guidelines only, but there are some important sections for developers too. These guidelines are UX focused and are guaranteed to work seamlessly on native applications of these technology giants. Another very useful tool is the WebAIM Chrome extension. This tool mainly focusses on accessibility and highlights design styles and code on your website that doesn't comply to WCAG (Web content Accessibility Guidelines). UX is obviously a lot more comprehensive that following a set of guidelines, but as a design / developer with no UX background this is a good start.


WS: Can you give us examples of people in the UX industry to follow and read?

MR: There are some really amazing UX influencers in the industry, some are focused on generic UX topics and others are more specific and focus on topics such as usability testing or web accessibility. Here are some great sites to have a look at:


  1. Nielsen Norman Group
  2. UX Magazine
  3. UX Booth
  4. Smashing Magazine
  5. UX Movement
  6. Usability Geek
  7. UXPin