Just “UX” It – How To Apply UX Thinking to Real Life Projects (and Karaoke)

Oftentimes, I find myself starting a project at home by saying I need to “UX” something – my room redesign, my weekend plans – you name it, I’ll “UX” it. This is just my way of saying that I’m going to employ the techniques I use as a UX designer outside of work.

As UX designers, we seek to create the best possible solution for the people for whom we’re solving a problem. Our process is goal-oriented, iterative, and sees experiences as whole units, not a bunch of parts. We strive for efficiency, usability, and delight. While we use very specific tools and techniques to do our jobs, our general approach can be applied to projects that aren’t design-related.

Do you want to improve your problem solving skills? Do you complete projects and feel lukewarm about the results? If so, I highly suggest you start to “UX” things, too.

Why You Should “UX” Your Projects

There are a few reasons as to why you should “UX” things:

  • It takes the “where do I start?” out of the equation – Oftentimes, the hardest part of a project is starting it. Having a tried-and-true method you follow makes the beginning of a project feel less overwhelming.
  • It’s methodical – Though the details can be tailored, UX designers follow a process that looks pretty similar from project to project. This makes it easy to learn and improve.
  • In my experience, it works – As I've used UX methods more outside of work, I’ve found myself much happier with the outcomes of the projects I take on. Of course, no process can guarantee perfect results, but if things go wrong, design thinking provides a method for how to fix them.

How to “UX” Something

To “UX” a project, you have to understand how UX designers approach challenges. Our general process is quite pragmatic and usually follows a three-step process: discovery, iteration, and execution.

  • Step 1: Discovery – First, gather information that will give your project direction. Your research should help you define the problem you’re solving, create goals that will guide the project and measure its success, and give you a solid understanding of the needs of those for whom you’re solving the problem (note: you can be your own audience!).
  • Step 2: Iteration – Next, comes the “ideas” portion of your project. Here, you will brainstorm many broad solutions. Never settle on the first idea—it’s usually not the best one. Then, you will choose a few ideas to develop further, and refine a fully-formed solution. Your ideas should always be informed by the needs of your audience (again, this may just be your needs if you are the audience), and you should revisit your goals periodically to make sure you’re on track.
  • Step 3: Execution & Evaluation – Finally, you will release your work into the wild and evaluate how it performs. Did the solution meet your goals? Did it solve your problem? Did it create a good experience?

Now, you may be thinking “hmm, I already do research and come up with multiple ideas when I’m working on a project. How is this different from regular problem solving?” That’s a great question.

First, regular problem solving tends to be more about coming up with a solution, while a UX mindset is focused on coming up with the best solution for a specific audience. Regular problem solving does not put the same emphasis on the needs of the audience, efficiency, or overall experience. You can easily solve a problem while also creating a poor experience that makes things more complex. UX seeks to avoid this.

Next, a UX approach goes beyond the regular problem solving approach. Above, I mentioned setting and revisiting goals, brainstorming multiple ideas, and evaluating and improving a solution, all while keeping in mind the needs of your audience at every step. Sure, these techniques can be used in regular problem solving, but I think they have a tendency to get left out because of the additional time, effort, and practice they take. UX is centered around these extra steps, and I find they’re worth the effort.

UX in Real Life

Before we continue, I’d like to make a confession: I am a karaoke junkie. In fact, I love it so much I joined a karaoke league about two months ago. This means that every week, I dress up in costumes and sing pop songs as part of team, hoping to beat out our competition and have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m a celebrity for a night. There are very few things I can imagine that are nerdier.

But wait, there actually is. Every week, I try to “UX” our team’s weekly group performance to help us win. Let’s see what UX looks like when it’s applied to a real-life scenario:

  • Discovery – Our problem and goals are the same week to week: We need to pick a song to sing as a group, and we want it to be a song that the audience will enjoy, that will be fun, and that will get us a win. As for information gathering, I’ve been paying attention to what songs people like to hear, and what kinds of performances usually win.
  • Iteration – Instead of settling on the first song someone suggests, my team brainstorms a bunch of ideas. Once we’ve settled on a song, we discuss the theme and costumes for the number, with each person building on what’s already been suggested. This can lead us in interesting directions, like an Oregon Trail-themed number. At every stage, our ideas are informed by what we think the audience will like.
  • Execution & Evaluation – Then it’s performance time! Afterwards, I like to evaluate how we did. Did we win? Have fun? If not, why? What can be improved for next time?

I know it may seem over-the-top to apply UX to karaoke, but if we just fly by the seat of our pants, performances are unprepared, we lose, and people don’t have fun. A little UX has gone a long way to help us get some clutch wins! And just think, if UX can work for something as silly as a karaoke league, imagine the impact it can have on more complex projects.

How will I know if I’m doing it right?

If you’re not a UX designer, you may wonder whether this method is working once you start to use it. How will you know if you’re doing it right?

First, evaluate every project against its goals. If the solution you came up with meets your goals, and you’re feeling happy overall with the outcome, you’re probably doing things right. Second, if you are solving a problem that involves other people, there’s an easy way to figure out if your solution worked: ask them how it went. They’ll be happy to tell you what they liked and what can be improved.

If you find that things didn’t go well at first, fear not! Design thinking is a method that requires a little practice, and you’ll understand how to apply it better over time. If you keep at it, these steps will become more automatic, and you’ll be enjoying the benefits of design thinking in no time.


Samara is a user experience designer in Viget's Falls Church, VA, HQ, where she works with clients such as Catholic Charities and the White House Historical Association. She enjoys sketching, creating information architecture, and teaching UX to fresh industry faces.

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