I keep encountering the phrase “Lean UX” at work and in local design circles. The first time I came across this buzzword, I thought it was a fancy way of saying, “cut corners in your process to get more UX work done” – which is ridiculous and doesn’t make sense. I then thought it meant “we’re too poor to hire more UX designers so here’s a method to produce more work with fewer heads” – which sounds like a crappy job.

Yes, the above picture is of eyes – prosthetic eyes to be exact. Never in my life did I think I’d be looking into a drawer of a hundred prosthetics eyes for my team’s most recent Day of Design, but there they were – all shapes, sizes, and colors…

I recently watched a documentary on the making of a concert piano – Steinway L1037. This film presented thoughtful insights into how a Steinway concert grand piano is made – focusing on the people whose lives were defined by the piano: the people who made the piano, the people tuned the piano, and the people that played the piano. The cadence of the film allowed for deep reflection and I found myself thinking about the process of making software – something that is also handmade and often involves many people, each one doing their part. In trying to apply the resonating principles found in this film, I’ve outline three ideas for designers and engineers that would increase quality and contribution to an equally impressive technical field – the making of software.

I wonder how modern “makers of things” understand how the “end-of-life product lifecycle” determines value, loyalty, and beauty? Do they account for the “end of life” experience of their products? Putting down Old Yeller (G5) this last week was an emotional experience. I have a 9-year old computer that I recently gutted, taking the first step to transform it into a nano-reef tank. I didn’t kill it because it didn’t work anymore – it ran just fine. My G5 lasted so long that I could no longer update it or run current software on it.

I spent a week in Switzerland last month for work – walking by shops, eating on it’s streets, and working in a building that overlooked a cobblestone plaza. In my off hours, I found myself wandering the streets exploring my surroundings. Upon arrival, I quickly became impressed with the strong quality of human scale that existed in the city where I was living. Everything from the streets, building size, and landmarks resonated an existence in harmony with the people that lived there. This is what I describe as human scale – a design quality of an experience, system, or device that expresses a strong sense of the creator’s own scale as a limiting constraint of development.

I wonder where we all went wrong – thinking that computers and making programs and services was really to help people, when it just doesn’t seem like it turned out that way. I used to be able to remember my best friends’ phone numbers. I could dial their digits in the dark. Now, I can’t contact a single person more than 4 blocks away if I don’t have a computer! Amid the cell phones loosing connection, and microwaves blinking with the wrong time, I recently found a silver lining in my computer world.

I’ve always believed that a good designer shouldn’t “work in a vacuum” – this design statement is often thought of as a pleasantry, but rarely becomes a mantra or philosophy of action for most designers. Reflecting upon this statement certainly yields insights that influence the way we design, and some designers may find that such reasoning challenges their predispositions of what “design” should be; if you shouldn’t design alone in isolation, then what should you do? If you’re a “design keeper”, such a question inevitably disputes your role as designer.

I believe UX has to be more than a production cog. It has to be more than a step in the process. It needs to be a guiding philosophy that informs the entire process of design and creation. I speak of UX as User-Experience design – a complete and wholistic viewpoint that the experience of a customer (or user) is defined by their entire contact with a product or service. I believe UX designers can have their biggest impact by affecting the ideas and values of all the people around them – helping them see a world outside their own. It means re-defining the UX mission for everyone and having them on board.

I like to think of a language, as a system for encoding and decoding information. Technical instructions, poems, words and sentences relate meaning, in an agreed-upon system of understanding. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how languages, as systems of understanding, have limits and challenges. In other words, the ability to understand a particular concept can be limited by a specific language or medium. As I’ve tried to introduce some new interactive ideas and concepts in the past couple months, I’ve recognized that some of the resistance I’ve encountered has been a result of the languages that are used to encode and decode the sketches, wire frames, and mock-ups I’ve been presenting. I’ve come to realize that new ideas need new words to set them free.

Over the years, our society has constructed a “designer” paradigm where design is embodied and idealized – even romanticized – within an individual. Even today the discourse found in design communities and education supports design values of self-creation and authorship, focusing on the individual as the “keeper of creativity”. The problem with this view of design – is that it inhibits innovation and fuels society’s excuse that non-designers can’t create. Organizations that wish to be innovative need more design thinkers, not design keepers.

One could write a 500 page book on the drawbacks of the Kindle – a device attempting to redefine the paper-bound medium we’ve known for the last 1000 years… the book. The Kindle and Nook are devices that challenge the way we think of books and the narrative values they embody; this poses uncertainty in cultures that are made up of story-telling people. The Kindle will never be able to properly mediate narrative content that wasn’t created for it! Anyone wishing to really change the narrative experience through a new device needs to consider providing content created specifically for the new device and medium.

Contextualizing human judgment with automaticity can be challenging. Additionally, designing systems for judicial procedures, either human or computer-based, comes with certain risks which should be thoroughly assessed. I believe that one of the natural side effects of incorporating human judgment into system procedures, is that people find their jobs more challenging and fulfilling. Recently, while riding the bus to campus, I was reminded of the value that UX designers can add to an interaction by purposely including a human element, or human judgment.

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