The Weary UX Designer

14 August 2015
 

UX, in theory

UX theory is neat and simple. Everything runs smoothly.

As UX designers, we know the perfect product happily marries user needs and business needs. We’re well-versed on how strong interface design improves the product.

Throughout our careers, we spend hours in meetings with senior stakeholders and developers, discussing technicalities. We liaise with product and project managers, information architects, IT personnel, human resources specialists and pretty much anybody else who will talk to us. We’re running around with cameras, sound recorders and billing for travel time between strange places.

It’s design in action. It’s fun!

Most of the time.

Ever met a weary UX designer?

They’re all over the place. They’ve got that hollow look in their eyes.

In my time in various web development and UX-related roles I have seen many design processes implemented well and even more done not-so-well.

beer

There are multiple barriers to successful user experience design in large and small organisations. If you ask a weary designer (best to buy them a beer beforehand – it’s going to be a long talk) about issues that plague their collaboration with clients, they will provide you with a typical list of common gripes. They will tell you that:

  • Politics in large organisations gets in the way of UX design progress
  • No one gets what they do
  • Good collaborative intentions can dissolve into endless strings of meetings
  • Last-minute deadlines and changes in scope happen all the time
  • Most of all – we, poor UX designers, cut to pieces by the corporate machine, have no control over anything whatsoever!

“After all this, how could we possibly design the product that users and the business really want?” –your disheartened friend, by now surely a beer-powered UX designer, would say.

Buy them another beer.

I used to be plagued by these things. Of course I was – they went against my model of what UX should be. I still occasionally have a rant when things don’t go how I anticipated from the start.

Naturally, some projects are more complicated than others. Yes, they might have to deal with politics and a lack of understanding about good design.

But I would like to put a controversial statement forward: that most of our frustrations about collaboration within UX processes is the result of our inability to let go of our control and allow processes to drive themselves.

UX is about letting go of control

Let your stakeholders shape the process in the same way users shape the design.

What do I mean by that?

In our ideal world, weUX designers would be responsible for the ultimate creation. We’d collect all the requirements and evidence, process them and with a delightful pat on the shoulder by the client, we would conceive the definition of the product that spans way beyond the best expectations.

However, the world we operate in is far from ideal. The reason is simple: not everyone is, nor will they ever be, clued up about stuff we do. And they don’t have to be. So small and big disasters happen if your collaborators are pressed too hard within the rigid boundaries of our own methodologies.

 

How to let go

In the real world it has become clear – here at Storm, but the revelation goes back somewhat to the dark ages of semi-conscious, early UX – that the best way forward is for clients to become the integral part of the process and to let go. To see what happens.

Steer, don’t impose

When the dynamics of client-user-product relationships change rapidly, we can steer, we can point out the right direction and – if we do it skilfully – it works. If we simply impose our will and beliefs over a confused client, we will fail.

Teach your clients about what you’re doing so they can participate constructively (Upskill)

One of our core roles is to build awareness of good design and user presence in our projects. This can be lectured to resistant minds, but it will go in one ear and out the other. Most clients I’ve worked with can intuitively design good products and think of their customers if we allow them to do that without overloading them with what I call “UX pulp”.

Break your own rules

They don’t want to sketch a home page with you? Find a way of doing it yourself, but politely squeeze out the information you need.  They don’t want to test with external participants? Fine! Break your rules and test with a dude from the canteen. Adapt. Adaptation. This works both ways; as much as our customers should adapt, we should also modify our approach to match their needs.

Use “barriers” to your advantage

Somebody told me once in the context of design: “Politics and barriers aren’t physical – they are created by people”. My experience shows that if people are supported to think in their own way and gently steered towards the good, they will design something that makes good sense.

Demonstrate the openness you ask of your collaborators

There is enough rigidness, stiffness and control in every design process as it is. Be controversial, be thought provoking, but also be supportive and open.

If we are clever about it, the design process will drive itself. All that needs doing is to define a clear target of a deliverable service, and then to let go and allow people to have fun. It’ll all work out.

Can somebody buy me a beer, please?

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