Sharing a bit about myself by publishing what I write. This is where you can find opinionated writeups discussing various topics of interest including:
The professional weight of the UX designer label
Have you heard that experiences can be designed? Well, that’s the impression you get from becoming a user experience (UX) designer. But what's in a title, and how does it dictate your professional evolution? And how much respect can an infant craft garner?
I'm unsure when I decided to call myself a user experience designer, though there has been plenty of related work that was done before latching on to the nomenclature. There have been meetings, mistakes, and misunderstandings between parties with different levels of leverage. I spent time keeping up using data, opinions, news, hobby sites, and accredited along with unconventional schooling. Spent time on experiments with new tools and techniques to understand first hand how the field is evolving.
Deserved or not, I carry a lead user experience designer role, and have plenty of appreciation for facets of the field, from the user research to storyboarding, to interaction design, all while cajoling and arguing along the way. And boy there were arguments… sometimes you were right, and sometimes you were wrong, and often they went long enough to blur the meaning of it all. Am I good or bad at what I do? Of course, I’m good because I’m biased, but at least I’m not insecure enough to mention that much. If anything, I’ve learned that people care way too much about being right, less we find our self having to issue insincere apologies for things we didn’t expect.
It’s enjoyable, but it’s still an evolving field, with misguided intentions to accompany the terminology. We believe in UX because we've had bad experiences. UX was the tree that grew from all the bad experiences. And ever since it grew into a prosperous Apple tree, it has grown ever more popular and accepted as a necessary investment. As the field approaches adolescence, a pause is needed to recognize what it’s growing into, what I am growing into, and the inherent difficulties that will come in defining this work.
So what do you do?…
It might be the number of hats you wear, or how UX has evolved, or how you can contribute to the project, or how the size of the project affects the roles you can fulfill, or how many people comment about it, but the desire to carry the label of a UX designer has dissipated for one reason or another. The reasons might not matter so much, and it probably won’t stop me from doing a client or job search with the UX term in my head, but it has created an inner awkwardness similar to anyone who feels the need to advocate for the position. How can this inner tension be explained, and if it could, would the excuses be worth describing? The fault will probably lie with me more than anyone, but it's always easier to deflect blame elsewhere, even when it’s directed at forces that either make no sense or should have been expected. A pointing finger never gets tired though so read on to see where it extends.
It’s ironically hard to explain
If UX designers were meant to make things simple, why is the title hard to explain compared to the past title I longed for? It becomes painfully obvious when mating, where I often need to entertain the seemingly boring “what do you do?” question. In practice, you could tout the position with flirty and salacious responses in tow. I’ll design your experience baby! In the real world, interactions proved awkward, forcing me to transition into more suitable conversations to meet whatever short term goal there is. Internationally, where the field was less established, I would end up in scenarios where I find myself trying to contain my laughter…
“… I design user experiences” “… Like roller coaster rides?” “… I work with computers…..” “… oh…”
Chalk it up to the women I pursue, or the poor mindshare for UX design, but it’s proper to question how we can make things easier for the layman when we can barely explain ourselves to them. But maybe simplicity was meant to be born from the complex.
Software’s nature, where fads feel at home
I guess it's still all as new as I am. Who knows what UX will mean decades from now. There was a time where glossy finishes ruled and software flowed from waterfalls. But here is a truism in software today… it is a den of failure. That’s not to be demeaning since failure is a fact of life, but try looking up the failure rate of software. The way we develop software is premised on its expected failure. If bridges, buildings, cars, or even hardware failed at the same rate as software, hell’s fury would be unmatched. If software dies, it doesn’t make a sound. It takes up no physical space and until it becomes used and widely adopted, it and serves no obvious need. The software with the largest mindshare has rightly earned its reputation as consumer sustaining time wasters. It is ripe for survivorship bias.
The successes among all the failure give them undue influence and create new patterns for the field to blindly follow. This goes beyond just UX, but the next fall lineup of apps is scheduled and some interfaces will captivate us with boundless innovation before being forgotten just in time for the new season. Software is fashion, a cultural phenomenon reflective of the times and pumped out to the masses in droves. It is not a reason to invalidate what a UX designer does, but it is the frame upon which software is designed and presented, the frame upon which a client makes a request, and the frame upon which users expect to interact. Sure competent designers will do their share of research… whether it’s for fashion or software, but the creative process will need to fall on the designer’s ingenuity and a smidgen of bullshit to satisfy the user.
How do we design an ‘experience’ anyways We are in the age where apps and sites are a dime a dozen. Software permeates every aspect of this first-world society. Ask about what software can do, and you will be told that it can do everything. It’s appropriate to assume that UX in of itself is overwhelmingly general. Patients in hospitals have experiences… And they happen to be users….Let's throw UX designers at it to fix the problem.
The field is general, but it swears that it’s specific. It reeks from its arrogance. Information Technology creators are identified more by their specific role rather than the industry they provide for. And UX designers are no different. It perpetuates the existence of a holy grail, the ultimate template for creating a worthwhile user experience. How to understand any client for any task and research any group to test any hypothesis. It feeds into the myth of the creative software genius who can make any select group of people happy. Coupled with an excellent ability to bullshit, and this user can dazzle masses with software designs that users can grow tired of and find useless after a few months.
The IT team is still ‘the other’ Something has gone wrong when we started to think of coders as whimsical magicians. They started to be locked away in their own IT corner, working on software like knitters in a factory. UX designers are expected to act as a liaison between IT, stakeholders, business developers, marketers, and whoever else comes to mind. They seemed blessed with the ability to translate all that programming Klingon speak. And people wonder why software failure is astronomically high and laced with miscommunication.
No, not everyone needs to learn how to code. But not every coder needs to learn how to code for everything. There are common tasks and specialties that people should gravitate towards to prevent this sort of alienation. Developers and designers should start to speak about the industry they contribute to and build up their careers towards advancing that industry, even if they advance it in a very specific way. We can’t perpetuate the notion that software creatives are meant for another world where they blindly obey the orders of the business overseers. Their professional contribution should evolve beyond the task of jotting down computer instructions. To get to a better place for the software, IT teams will need to be treated as more than just ‘the other’.
So what do you call me? I am what my title says I am. And my title doesn’t say philosopher, so I can only dwell on it for so long. The times and the industry will dictate how this role evolves and if it survives. There is an acceptance of UX to be more than creating pretty interfaces but there is also an understanding that it revolves around our relationship with a more technologically enhanced frontier.
It’s worth it to think about the purpose of your work and to ultimately figure out that it’s for someone else’s benefit. I do claim to be a ‘digital designer and developer’ in a general sense. It sounds nice, and it rolls off the tongue, and though this post may suggest otherwise, I prefer not to get too caught up in the semantics of it all. To pass the days, I create software for schools and teachers and I teach people how to create software. And though the path ahead is never exactly clear, it’s fun either way.