UX: A New Mission


Remember buying a pair of jeans and finding the small inspector number in the pocket the 1st time you wore them? Ever looked at the backside or bottom of a piece of furniture and noticed the “inspected by” stamp? Sometimes, I feel like an inspector of a process, where I stamp my approval before the product heads out the door; not having the power to change or influence the product before it came to my station, nor having power to make sure others know how to contact me for problems after it left the factory.

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. From customer calls… to website interaction… to packaging… UX is the entire experience of contact.

In order for UX to become bigger than colors, buttons, and workflows, it needs to break free of the “captors of UX”. Sometimes these captors are designers with limited knowledge and understanding of UX methods, and sometimes its captors are the organizational cultures and hierarchies that don’t allow for UX initiative/support.

UX isn’t found in a specific user-interview outline or heuristic guideline… it’s found in the philosophy behind such tools and methods. Thinking about User-Experience is a ideology that involves accounting for ideas and behavior that aren’t your own. It means opening the doors to objectivity and following insights with rigor and diligence. It means understanding that user empathy is more than a design consideration – it’s something that is felt.

UX needs to be a guiding philosophy where all people and departments begin to adopt decision-making skills relevant to their role and tools of production. If you are in customer support, UX for you means being patient, understanding, and empathetic – to the point that you actually help someone, not just type call notes on your computer. If you are a developer, UX for you means programming an error response that doesn’t buzz and make the user feel like they did something “wrong”.

If UX designers can represent something more than a list of tools, methods, and practices for understanding users, they can become an influence of change for others. At my job, I’m outnumbered by developers, 20:1. I can never account for all their ideas, code, or technology. But if I can get them to think like me when I’m not around, then I can break free of my cube. I can go to them with a common language, rational, and accountability in such a way that promotes change. I believe UX designers can have their biggest impact by affecting the ideas and values of the people around them – helping them see a world outside their own. It means re-defining the mission for everyone and having them on board.

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  • Matt:

    You framed this really well! I totally agree with you on how UX should be situated within the process. Sometimes people call it different things, but it is all about the experience. I don’t know if you got to hear Kristian Andersen when he came down to speak at Informatics but he was pretty much saying the same thing as you, except he talked about it as brand experience design. I try to be careful with terms because of the baggage that comes with different words. “Brand experience” has a natural tendency to be focused back on the company or organization. “User experience” tends to remind us that the focus needs to be outward. Recently I have been using the phrase “Stakeholder experience” because for one, “user” has some negative connotations on its own and also because we tend to think of users in relation to a product or tangible item. I wrote a blog post about the talk that Kristian gave. You can read it at http://jaysteele360.com/kristian-andersen-brand-experience-design. Thanks for the great reflection. Keep spreading the word.

  • @Matt, loving this post. Your analogy of the inspector who has no influence on the product before/after seeing it is stunning. I agree that we need to be agents of change… the question is how to do it within the organization. Part of it comes from understanding the organization and the people within it. Part of it is knowing how to talk with people so they know you respect what they do, that you’re not stepping on toes by introducing them to the way you think. That, I believe, is imperative to having a cohesive team and feeling as though you are actually influencing and contributing.

    @Jay, I avoid calling the people I speak to as a usability analyst “users.” The fact is, they are not “users” in my context, they are “customers.” Whether they are potential, current, or former, the people my company cares about are customers. They don’t provide a product that people explicitly use everyday, being an insurance company. I guess my point is that depending on the context of your company and your audience, it just isn’t appropriate to call this audience “users.”

  • admin

    Binaebi – I agree – influencing without stepping on toes is important. I’ve been thinking a lot about “design inception” if you will. The idea that my influence is something that grows inside of someone to the point that they embody it and accept it as their own. I believe it comes with having positive experiences with UX designers… and not so much from a bunch of insights listed in bullet form. That’s why I’m a fan of having people “experience design” with UX designers and participating in their process (where appropriate). What do you think?

  • admin

    Jay. Can I give you royalties on the “stakeholder experience” phrase? It’s dope! I probably spend 50% of my time thinking about the process of design and how it my stakeholders fit in it. I think a good UX designers provides experiences for the stakeholders as well as users. It’s almost like an internal evangelist. Someone who can sell the ideas to others in order to affect change with users. I’ve got a post coming up about a personas where it’s all about the experience of the stakeholders. I’ll keep you posted.