UX Designer Without a Computer?

How do you imagine a typical UX team at work? Probably, most people see a bunch of nerds sitting in front of their computers all day: wireframing, researching, designing… Well some days certainly follow this scenario but it doesn’t always need to be like that.

Some time ago, our lead designer’s good old Mac seized up and later that week I had the power cut off (I paid the bill, no idea what happened) for a few hours. We both panicked at first: “How the hell will we work now?!” Then, I realized how much UX work can actually be done without computers.

Freehand sketch.

Initial UX research

Observing users in their natural environment is always beneficial for the project.The first phase of the project usually means hours of internet research on the users: their characteristics, habits, needs and expectations. In many cases, most of that research is conducted online. We dig through social media groups, online forums and all data delivered by the client. A lion’s share of those hours spend in front of the computer, can be replaced by a field study. Observing the users’ behavior and talking to them directly, it’s possible to gather a lot of frim data in a relatively short amount of time. Our last field study convinced everyone in the team that seeing users in their natural environment is very beneficial for the project.

Organizing project information and ideation process

Project brief, information exchanged with the client via email or phone, initial research findings – that’s a lot of data and PDF’s are constantly mushrooming on your desk(top). The key to good UX is drawing the right conclusions from all that information and coming up with solutions that combine the client expectations with the user needs. I find User Centered Design Canvas a perfect tool for that. With one side devoted to users and the other to the business, you can sum everything up and draw right conclusions – all that one piece of paper. Yes, paper. Sure, you can do it on your computer, but an old-school method can often prove more effective. Underlinings, crossings, side notes – all that is important in the ideation process. Time for clean, carefully edited text documents will come later.
User Centered Design Canvas filled.

Mapping out tasks

Writing down tasks on the whiteboard helps to visualize the scope of work.All UX work needs a good plan. Each person in a team has to know exactly what needs to be done at each stage and who will be responsible for what. Huge agencies that deal with multiple enormous projects wouldn’t be able to function without project management software, but most UX teams don’t consist of more than ten people. And so often, an equally good way to map out tasks is writing them on a whiteboard together with responsible person and deadline. We do it in our team at the beginning of each bigger projects and then update it erasing completed tasks and adding new if necessary. It helps to quickly visualize the scope of work and ensures everyone is on the same page. You’ll never forget you need to do something having such a to-do list in your office.

User journey

There are hundreds of ways you can approach creating user journeys: it can be a simple scenario of steps the user takes on the page or complex diagram including also the user emotions or goals. There are no limits, unless you’re limited by the software you use. Creating user journeys on posts-its is a common practice among UXers. No wonder, there are many advantages of that method. First and foremost, it’s quick: you just write all user steps on chits and stick them to the wall. You can easily change the order or add some information later. What’s more, you’re able to see the whole structure of the user journey at one time – scrolling or switching between multiple canvases in a soft, you always risk overlooking some important aspect. And, of course, post-its method is perfect for teamwork, it’s much easier to discuss everything with the team when all are gathered in front of the wall, then if you all sat in front of one computer or separately viewed the journey each on its own screen.

User journey with post-its.


Freehand sketches are perfect for validating ideas at an early stage.There’s no UX design without wireframes. And so, no wonder you can find a plenty of software for wireframing. Some is actually really great and helps a lot with visualizing ideas, but, to be honest, I don’t think it should completely replace an old-school pencil and a paper method. Sketching helps to save a lot of time. Making a freehand sketch takes a minute, preparing it in any software means at least ten times more. Sketches are therefore perfect for validating ideas at an early stage. You can consult them with your team and armed with eraser make quick alterations together. It will be much easier and faster to make wireframes later based on what you’ve developed.

I’m not saying we should live like Amish and, let’s be honest, there’s a lot of UX stuff you would never do without a computer, but sometimes it’s really great to let your eyes and back rest. I’m sure the quality of your final deliverables  won’t suffer for that.