Man in office talking to team discussing the UX paradox

The UX paradox: how we diminish our own influence

Everyone has their own experience working with UX professionals: good, bad or indifferent. Unfortunately, the impact of a negative experience with UX has an exponential effect over time. One poor experience has a snowball effect on how we are perceived, supported, and even calls into question our relevance and efficacy. Herein lies the paradox. Creating a positive experience is our primary job, yet we often do a poor job at applying our skills to the people and processes around us. Let’s review 6 common ways we deliver a bad experience, and reduce our own value.

“Unfortunately, the negative impact of a poor experience with UX has an exponential effect over time.”

1. Identity Crisis

CX, UX, UCD, HCD, UI, UR, IXD, IA, SD, Product Design… We have a funny way of wanting to stand out from the crowd, and differentiate ourselves from the masses. This can be unsettling to those around us, especially the ones who are still getting used to working with UX. We confuse people in the industry with the constant re-imagining of ourselves, our titles, terms, and areas of focus. In our effort to differentiate ourselves, we appear unsure of who we are and what we do. This is a problem not easily solved, as there is no shortage of non-conformists in our field. However, it benefits us all to have a clear understanding of who we are, the value we provide, and to clearly articulate that message to others with more unity.

2. Design in Disguise

The inexperienced (graphic, web, UI) designer who swaps titles and suddenly becomes a UX designer on paper is deleterious to our credibility. This designer unleashes poorly informed solutions on an unsuspecting client or business. The result is that developers who worked with this person think UX is a waste of time, leadership and clients think it’s a waste of money, and the rest of the industry suffers the exponential negative effects of the impostor. I’ve been brought in to help projects recover from disastrous design directions. The recovery is excruciatingly long, costly, and oftentimes seemingly irrevocable. We can do a better job of vetting these individuals during the interview process, but the question is, how do we help unknowing companies that are hiring their first UX team member?

3. The Nomenclature of UX

We love our buzzwords and we love to talk about them to others and sound smart. We should be educating people in their journey, however, we aren’t helping people understand anything if we are talking over their heads, or making assumptions that everyone knows what we know. Either we are oblivious to others’ ignorance of our vernacular and terminology, or we are simply being too smug. Our tone and delivery of information can alienate the very people whose support on which we rely. This is one of the areas where those essential soft skills are critical to help us better communicate with others. Be willing to go the extra mile to help bridge that communication gap and help others understand our craft.

“Our tone and delivery of information can alienate the very people whose support on which we rely.”

4. Never-ending Design Iteration

At the end of the day, we have to get working software in the hands of users. It is so easy to get caught in the minutia of pixel perfection, alternative solutions, or refining micro-interactions. Nothing drives developers more crazy than “Wait, just one more thing!” This is also one of the reasons so many people think “UX takes too long.” After a couple of rounds of testing and iteration, it’s generally safe to send that body of work out in a release to see how users interact with it in the wild. It may not be perfect, and that is OK. Likewise, you should have learned enough through testing to know it won’t fall flat, will solve a real problem, and will meet the users needs. You’ve taken an informed, careful, and thoughtful approach to your solution, tested your prototypes from which to learn and refine. Now it’s time to get it implemented and test that hypothesis.

5. Lack of Diplomacy

Let’s be frank, we can be a smug bunch with our holier-than-thou attitude, wondering why everyone doesn’t get on board with the value of UX. To the point that I see angry and obstinate UX professionals that come in swinging a large ‘UX will save you from yourselves’ baseball bat at everyone from the product team to leadership. As I wrote in my last article on Design Leadership this approach immediately puts the conversation in an ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ position. Each side digs in their heels and nothing gets accomplished. Our entire industry could learn a lesson in diplomacy and soft skills. I’d love to see that subject as a requirement in modern UX degree programs.

6. UX Hero

Years ago someone said, and I am paraphrasing, “UX took the ego out of design.” When I began my career in the mid-nineties, the industry was led by ego-driven design. We all just wanted to make ‘cool shit’ with no regard for the end user outside of dazzling them with our amazing design and animation skills. UX redirected that creative energy and gave it focus, constraints, and ultimately more value. User-centered design was focused on collaboration, and being open to new ideas. Today, I see a renewed trend of ego-driven designers who are married their solutions. I hate to break it to you, but we don’t always have the best ideas. Some of the best ideas come from people outside of UX, like developers, BAs, QAs and others. If your idea of collaboration with developers is only to ask them if something is technically feasible, then you are missing the point. Collaboration is key to successful products. Be open to working with and learning from the entire product team. Be open to alternative points of view, and remember it’s about providing value to the user, not being the star of the show.

“UX took the ego out of design.”

How Do We Fix The Problem?

There is no simple way to fix all of the issues we create for ourselves. You may be familiar with the ‘circle of influence and the circle of concern.’ Our circle of concern does little to affect change, but our circle of influence is where we can make a positive impact to improve our trust, credibility, and influence within the industry.

In a follow-up article, I will address some of the ways we can improve the industry’s experience with UX. Until then, I’d love to hear what you think, and how you feel we are limiting our own abilities from your experience.


written by Shane Close, originally appearing here

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