It’s been three months since I published my thoughts and feelings about UX amateurism and my constant struggle to define my position and understanding of user experience. I have now found that it’s better to refer to user experience as a state of mind rather than “a thing you do”. I admit that I still fall in the trap of using the word “UX” to refer to certain design practices, but I have stopped calling myself a user experience designer altogether, which I think is a good thing.
Since my post, I’ve started identifying myself as an interaction designer (and sometimes an information architect) and find that specialising my craft around behaviour (rather than everything under the sun) has helped me produce better work. There are many things involved in the design of interactive systems, and rather than biting off more than I can chew (although that is my name), it’s better to focus on collaborating with other specialists (content, tech, business requirements, strategy, graphic design, etc.) to produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The mis-selling of UX
UX amateurism has resulted from an ugly mess of mismatched talent and demands, based on a poor understanding of effective modern design work and an overemphasis on marketing, branding, and “world-changing” experiences. There exists an extremely valuable pool of talent amongst us that contribute directly to UX but often don’t go by the term “UX designer”. Instead, they remain as visual designers, copywriters, content strategists, project managers, planners, front-end developers, producers, product managers, design researchers and so on – each of whom provide their own unique problem solving capabilities to the fore.
These roles are not new, but the emergence of digital ubiquity and disruptive innovation have caused many organisations to scramble for solutions, signing up for what is often packaged as user experience and cobbling together design teams without really understanding the drastic demands on its own operations and systems, not to mention its relationships with customers and end users. Meanwhile, “non-UX” practitioners have responded in their own way to push the boundaries of tools, processes, teamwork and technology.
Eventually, smart organisations and practitioners understand that it is not really about building better experiences per se, but better conversations. The primary struggle of industries today is not about delivering the ‘wow’, but about delivering relevance – because people are increasingly trading on trust rather than desire.
Transformation is everyone’s job, the future of UX
If user experience is a term that we use to trade our craft skills and services with, I feel that we owe it to UX buyers to match the “promise” of the term. And most of the time, these buyers will refer to UX as many things – a user-centred approach, a means to improve customer experiences, a product or service experience that is way better than the one before (the ‘wow’). Despite the single vision we can all see and agree on, the effort to achieve this is often gargantuan (you’re not really assuming UX = just an amazing app or website, right?). Hiring a team of “UX designers” isn’t going to solve anything unless the proper understanding, systems, culture, sponsorship and environment are in place. And if these things aren’t in place, it’s our job as practitioners to help build it up, if we all agree that’s where we need to go.
So yes, UX has taken over our hearts and minds, but we remain practitioners in our own domains. I feel that we’ve reached a point where the real transformative work still lies in front of us, if we really believe UX to be this truly amazing thing we can all achieve and celebrate. It’s time we look further afield and collaborate with others outside our specific domains.
And no, it’s not just about apps and websites.