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November 18, 2010

Confessions of the UX ex

Listen up kiddies; here’s where I step off the user experience (UX) bandwagon.

It seems like only yesterday: returning from the experience of life in Korea and having gone back to finish my degree with renewed vigor, I ran across Nathan Shedroff’s “Unified Theory of Design”. What a treasure! It explained things I never thought of but which made such sense. It was the first exposure to design that I intrinsically understood.

The year was 2006; the article was written in 1994.

I was a little behind; sure. I made up for lost time, telling everyone I knew about this new thing I found. I read voraciously, making Cooper’s About Face 3—my second bible (the Bible being my first bible, of course). I talked night and day about this. I quit my job and started freelancing as an experience designer part time while finishing my degree (UX had given me a reason to). I got an offer to be the web manager for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which I accepted.

And then I went to San Francisco.

I’d been once before, but this was for an Adaptive Path seminar. It was a utopia: everyone knew what I was talking about! What’s more, most of them could tell me a thing or two! I chatted with Sarah, who I had met before at An Event Apart, and met Teresa, who’d later help me define my “UX Mantra.”

Over the past two years, I’ve struggled professionally to put the principles I’ve learned about user experience design (UXd) into practice for an organization that desperately needs it. Part of that is due to the structure of the org itself, but a lot more of it is due to ignoring change management—that which creates the motivation, skills and knowledge required for people to adopt new systems and procedures.

It seems a lot easier to do when you’re a cool, respected UX agency being paid to come in and make change, but even then there’s no guarantee. I see a lot of talk about UX from the venerable halls Adaptive Path and Hot Studios, Ideo and Cooper—but where is the change? More than just a portfolio of novel ideas, are we seeing a new consciousness that’s being developed in people?

Without change management, it’s a lot like herding cats. And when you’re in the business of herding cats, you’re not in the business of change management—at best you’re making cat-herding specialists.

And then competing against them for cats.

RT @adaptivepath You just know that two years from now, @hotstudio will be burning sage and claiming it was their idea.less than a minute ago via web

All expressed hilariously in the above tweet. Funny but sad; sad but true. I want to opt out of this unnecessary phase of experience design.

Today’s world is ubiquitoUX, and tomorrow is closer than you think.

When our goal is to out-design the other “UXer,” we get to novelty rather than repeatable innovation. I’m not a novel guy; if we’re going to see who’s cooler, I’m sure I’ll lose. But that’s not why I got excited about UX—I was drawn by the opportunity to be part of creating a ubiquitous practice.

I recently seized a great opportunity to sit down with Adam, whose book was also insightful early on. After that conversation I found myself considering the logical progression of UXd as a field of employment. At worst, a tight rein is placed around the study, and design is doled out at a internally-adjusted cost. This would make user experience design a luxury item—available only to those who could afford it.

At best, and generally in response to such worst-case systems, more and more people will desire to strike gold in the UX rush. I believe this is happening already. From the scribe, to the webmaster, and to the journalist, we can just look around us and see where that market saturation will lead—to a common user with the motivation, skills and knowledge to design user experience themselves. Society manages its own change.

I for one am ready to kill the cult of cool that prevents this social development. I’m not interested in clutching onto proprietary pursestrings or milking things until they’re no longer personally profitable. I’m interested in three things:

  • Honesty: a faithful delivery system for accurate information
  • Craftsmanship: the zenith of development in every detail
  • Good Intent: perpetual gain to the common user and consideration for perspectives

Today’s world is user-created. My world is different from yours precisely because I can design my experience for myself, and the world is changing as I contribute content that I create. Why wouldn’t it make sense for me, the common user to understand the principles of designing for user experiences? What part of tomorrow’s world makes sense with a UX specialist? Let the common user practice experience design and build a world where its principles are truly universal.

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