One of the Problems with “UX” (not a Random Thought)

I don’t think anyone can go into a company hired on as a “UX Designer” and know their product in roughly a week, and then deliver UX guidelines, a style-guide, and suggestions for a product 4 months from launch at the end of that week. 

Maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t think so. 

And this is something that adds on to thoughts I’ve had in the past about the whole UX thing, and the mass-imperceptions people tend to have about this thing called UX. 

Is it user research? Yes

Is it Information Architecture? Yes

Is it UI design? Yes

Is it creating personas? Yes

Is it interaction design? Yes

Is it wire framing? Yes

Is it Visual Design? Yes

Is it about creating the best, most engaging, easy to use experience for the end user? YES!

It’s about ALL of the above things, and maybe some things I missed. 

Some companies have one person (or a couple) doing all of the above. Which is fine if they understand it takes a lot of work for that one or two people to do it all (and we’re not even getting into the Magic Unicorn syndrome of someone who can develop as well..)

Some companies have wisely chosen to break those different disciplines into different roles so the load is shared by many. Some have not. Usually the companies that have not really don’t get what UX is. I say usually because there are a few here and there that start out with putting UX first, not as an afterthought.  

And when companies put UX as an afterthought, which I have encountered numerous times, they don’t get it. In fact, I’ve had VP’s tell me there’s an internal argument among top execs and pretty much everyone else as to what UX is. 

And that’s pretty sad really. 

Typically (I say this from experience), they’ll do the best they can with some graphics people (or not..), a PM (or product owner and scrum master), a business analyst, and a group of developers who do their best to make a set of requirements functional, which to the credit of the developers, they tend to do a good job of making software functional. 

And the BA does a good job of getting requirements (more on that in a moment). In fact, everyone does their job admirably — almost all the time. And the app or software or web site is then made. 

But then they realize it’s not all that great – graphics don’t look too sharp, buttons aren’t where they could be, processes don’t seem to make the thing more user-friendly, action items are missing or in the wrong place, and so on. “We need to hire a UX designer to help us!” they cry. (okay, that’s a bit dramatic but you get the point)

And so they look high and low, call recruiters, and a parade of UX folk are shown similar to the America Kennel Club “Best in Show” competition. And then a UX champion is chosen. This is where things can either go really well for all, or turn out to be not such a great idea. And that’s all based on how much the company understands (TRULY understands) the role of UX. 

1: A UX Designer is not a babysitter. 
Our job is to find the best solution to a problem in order to create the best experience for the end user. We need to have time to do research, pour over any existing analytics and data, understand what the product is supposed to do,  get to know the end user, see where the product short-comings are (pain points), devise a plan on how to improve it, do some information architecture (if needed), mindmap it, create new solutions as wireframes (and eventually flows), create some graphic mockups, and then champion that direction and fight for what’s the right way to get to a great end product.  

2: A UX Designer is about great usability.
Asking them to do anything short of that is like asking an eagle not to soar (yes, dramatic again, but that comes pretty close).

3: A UX Designer has your best interests.
Some companies don’t get this. They want us to come in, tell them everything looks pretty okay aside from moving some buttons and adding a few new requested features (like a new button), and making sure the developers are following the designs that were already created and signed-off on (and marketed to users). Yes, there’s some room for some improvements, which might happen by launch, or after launch (phase 2), but there’s no time for real improvements. If we see that there are glaring problems with your product/app/website, it’s our job/duty/requirement to let you know. It goes against our grain to let bad things go out into the world that everyone is going to see. And for me at least, I don’t want to be tied to bad things. 

4: Not all UX Designers can do everything.
Okay, I believe most UX Designers should be able to do most tasks required for creating a great experience. But I’m not a top notch researcher. I’m okay at it, and good at listening, and looking at information, and figuring out what to do with it. But I’m not a scientist or true researcher. But I do love to know what you have, find out why it’s not working (by me using it, and then asking others what they think), and coming up with a game plan to not just fix it but make it better. I love doing visual design, but not all UX folks do, or can for that matter. That’s okay. I love sitting with developers and making sure the designs are followed (and this is not really babysitting as I don’t micromanage or hover). I check in on them, tell them I’m there for answers, and help them figure things out, or make small changes – which I then update in my designs so QA has GOOD documentation. so we have a successful launch. 

5: A Good UX Designer is an Architect
I truly believe that a good UX Designer should be an architect. That’s my belief. I don’t think every UX person out there feels the same way, and loves focusing on the one aspect that really floats their boat. That’s okay, and works well in big organizations. My inspiration comes from architects of the Bauhaus movement as well as mid-century geniuses like Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, and others who not only designed a structure, but designed an experience. They focused on creating the best experience for their client, which included picking out colors, designing the furniture, being there with the builder (developers in our case), from Day 1 to the last day. Even if I’m on a job and required to do one thing, I want to be involved in the whole process to ensure the best possible experience is being created. 

To wrap this up, all I need to say is for all the small and big companies out there, study. Learn what UX is. Go to UX get-togethers, get to know us. Read online, get some books, know it well enough so when you hire us, you know what to ask for and know how the process goes (and how long it can take). That way you’re not surprised, or disappointed when we don’t have tangible results the 5th day on the job. It’s kind of like baking a cake from scratch. You know it takes time to put all the ingredients together and let them bake for the right amount of time. You can’t rush a good cake. 






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