Want to Make Perfect UI?

Use the Avatar Method to improve project quality

Erik Messaki     |       October 19, 2022

What makes the best designers so successful?

Solid experience? Soft and hard skills? Some special vision or imagination?

Top designers can separate themselves from design.

Automatism: your friend & your enemy

A designer’s work tends to breed automatic skills. It’s especially true for UI designers. When you’ve done something a hundred or a thousand times, it becomes completely automatic. That’s great for speediness and quality but lethal for creativity and originality.

Experienced designers often work mechanically, doing the same thing year after year. Once upon a time, they used to be on top, but it’s hard to believe now. They’re stuck in a rut. And each of us risks the same fate.

Acknowledging the problem is half the solution.

Here’s the other half.

How to stop being an automaton and start making great designs

To get out of the box, you have to learn to think differently. The Avatar Method is the best way to make sure your designs are always relevant and effective. All you need is a few avatars. Don’t worry, there’s no risk of splitting your personality.

Let’s start with creating several folders. Each folder will house an avatar. You can also create icons for them. The avatars themselves can and should be visualized. Here they are:

1. Businessman

2. Detective

3. Customer

4. Salesman

5. Reporter

Rule 1: This method only works with a new project. Don’t change the avatar sequence.

Rule 2: Every time you find yourself thinking of design or visualizing, look for an alternative answer outside the realm of design. The more you practice, the less frequently the need for this will arise.

Ready? Open up a new project (the brief and the rest of the stuff). Designer mode off, game on. Time to do some body-swapping.

Avatar 1: Businessman

You are a businessman. You’re doing this project for yourself and your business. Learn as much as possible about your own company and similar ones. What are they doing to win over the market? Approach this task in terms of its benefits and prospects. Think hard.

Ask yourself: “How can I make my brand famous? How can I make my product more valuable? I’ve got a business partner (your real-life client). I should ask his advice and listen to what he has to say.”

If you have any important questions (and you definitely will!), write them down to discuss with your client. The better you understand his problem, the more pleasant and productive your subsequent relationship will be.

The Businessman avatar helps you gain an in-depth understanding of the project, appreciate the client’s ideas, justify your solutions, and further develop the concept in close cooperation.

Avatar 2: Detective

You are a detective. You’ve been hired to sniff out as much useful information as possible. You need to gather all the available data about the product, the competitors, and the users.

Be meticulous in putting everything you’ve collected into the folder. Make notes, take screenshots. Think and analyze.

Attention! A detective knows nothing about aesthetics. He’s a creature of pure reason. He looks for whatever works and finds out why it does.

Ask yourself: “What’s good about this product? What isn’t? Why is this competing website more popular than a similar one?”

Look for any answers, as long as they have nothing to do with design. It won’t be easy, but you’ll make it.

The detective gathers information and analyzes:

1. The product (its features, capabilities, advantages).

2. The competing platforms (advantages and disadvantages in terms of accomplishing the goal).

3. The users (assembling a “dossier” on every target group).

The Detective avatar achieves the same goals as the marketer and the UX designer combined. It’s much more fun, however, to play the detective. “Getting the measure of these users” is much more exciting than “creating a portrait of the target audience.”

Avatar 3: Customer

You are a customer. The very same one you’ve just “gotten the measure of.” Now you know his motives and secret pains, so it will be easy to inhabit his mind. You can predict his behaviors and responses (which is what your scenario will be based on). But until this moment, you have been looking at him from the outside.

Now you are him. Engage all your powers of imagination. You know what you want. You won’t be fooled! Consider your problem and the perfect possible solution. Take note of all the advantages you want to get.

Draw your idea of the simplest and most convenient way to achieve it. Make it a primitive freehand drawing on a scrap of paper; it’s not like you’re a designer!

The Customer avatar is a lot more useful than user portraits. Looking at someone from the outside is very different from trying their personality on, like an actor. A user profile doesn’t reveal the user’s ideas, motives, vision of the way, goal, and advantages. The avatar lays it all out for you to see.

Avatar 4: Salesman

You are a salesman. Get into character. Your job is to sell the product by any means possible.

Qualities of a successful salesman: excellent knowledge of the product, communication skills, good grasp of consumer psychology, good conversation skills, stress resistance, and ability to anticipate possible objections.

Now compare this list to the demands made of a good digital product. Pretty similar, aren’t they?

A salesman knows how to attract customers. You’ve already been in the customer’s skin, so you know his tastes, quibbles, and desire. You know everything about the product after playing the detective.

Now you have a better understanding of how to present your selling proposition. No, this has nothing to do with visual presentation. Salesmen are not designers. But designers can learn a lot from them: how to grab the customer’s attention, get them interested, engage them in a dialog; what emotions to engage, which tone of voice to use, and how to satisfy the customer without compromising your profits.

Ask yourself: “What should I do I to make people want to buy my product?”

Look for a conceptual focus. (It’s what will later form the basis for the visual focus, but never mind that now.) A focus is something that showcases the advantages of the product: exclusivity, affordability, popularity, usefulness, ease of use, etc.

What will your user respond to? Describe it in simple words.

The Salesman avatar is the most useful of the bunch. To be successful as a designer, you need to learn to sell your client’s product rather than your own work. To do this, you have to think like a smart salesman, look for ways to engage your customers, and see things through a businessman’s eyes, not just a designer’s.

Avatar 5: Reporter

You are a reporter. You’ve seen a lot, you’ve spoken to lots of people, you are aware of different opinions and facts. You have interviewed the Businessman, the Detective, the Customer, and the Salesman. You’ve got tons of useful material, but you need to pick out the most salient points.

You have inhabited four bodies and collected four different types of information. Now it must be collated, systematized, and sorted out. It has to be done right away, while it’s still fresh in your memory and before your enthusiasm starts to wane.

The Reporter’s job is to sort and filter data. This material will become the basis of the design concept and all subsequent design solutions. Remember, it’s still “designer mode off” at this stage — you’re only working with the general concept.

Is it ready? Do you like it? Can you put it into words, and describe it in simple terms? Are you willing to justify your decision with arguments?

Then it’s time to exit the game.

Then it’s game over.

You’re a designer again

But now you have reached a higher level. You haven’t merely gathered data; you’ve learned to think more broadly and conceptually — as a businessman, an analyst, a psychologist, and a salesman. Your vision has changed. You now see the problem from multiple angles. You know different ways of solving it. From now on, your design will be more meaningful. It will accomplish the necessary tasks and achieve the required goals.

Unless your avatars were slacking off, they’ll save you lots of time. There will be fewer reworkings, corrections, doubts, and unnecessary questions asked of the client. Your vision will be broader, and your useful and constructive ideas more plentiful. And you will undoubtedly feel a lot prouder of yourself and your team of invisible helpers!