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To Boldly Glow: Experience Design without Borders

When creating user experiences, you need to understand the problem you’re designing a solution for. You’d better engage the users, the customers and stakeholders. You’d better evolve those insights into concepts, journeys, information architectures and design frameworks. You’d better work with the best build and delivery partners.

Most experience design agencies are set up to be able to do exactly this. Most experience design agencies do it pretty well. Mostly

Commoditisation of service offerings

However, as the experience design industry approaches a critical mass, such that it is able to commoditise its service offerings, those services cluster into a set of repeatable, predictable and marketable objects, like practice moths around a service flame. Some agencies might focus on the research cluster. Some might prefer to lead with the design and build cluster. Some might really be able to deliver them all as an integrated experience design offering.

But we’re evolving into digital utilities.

While those commoditised experience design services help clients and agencies agree on deliverables, costs and timelines, the resulting engagement might be less collaboration, more subscription. If a client really does have an articulated, addressable problem, and the service offerings have evolved to the point that we can deliver great user experiences without too much operational overhead, thank you, then everybody is happy. But what about the client that can’t articulate their problem? What if they don’t even have a problem? What if they just have a feeling that things could be somehow ‘better’?

Designing without borders

That’s where we need to take our experience design practice back to designing without service borders. We still gather insights. We still interpret and evolve. We still detail and deliver. But our engagement is based on our excellence in crafting experiences that delight customers and users. We don’t lead with services, we lead with design. Our designers are visionary. They understand the complexities. They’re vibrant, exciting and unique. They don’t shuffle into that workshop with brochureware, they walk in to that workshop self-aware. They boldly glow, and so they should.

listening post: daft punk – the grid

Undefining ourselves: More might be less for user experience design

As I was reading through Jeff Gothelf’s blog entry on the mythical user experience visual designer unicorn, I thought way too much about the current apparent need for user experience professionals to wear more than one pointy skill hat in order to somehow make themselves that much ‘better’.

In a nutshell (which, by the way, is a cleverly crowbarred reference to my own developer background) it seems to me that the more skills we pursue, the less skills we can practice and develop. Under a rather broad categorisation of ‘user experience’, which I’m not even going to set the boundaries on, because I still don’t know what they are, there are a huge range of techniques, skills, practices and methods that are constantly evolving and shifting in response to needs, innovations and opportunities. We learn, use, modify and generally make our best use of those techniques and skills, to help us solve problems and design solutions that we hope make the world a better, more delightful place. And I think that’s enough to be going on with. At least, in terms of a value proposition for a User Experience Designer.

There is a tendency for us to refer to ‘full-service agencies’ as some kind of 7-fingered, flat-footed cousin and the very idea that they might make a claim to be able to provide user experience expertise is roundly scoffed at. Which seems a contrary position, if we can be quite so pleased with our own ability to write code, build platforms, deliver compelling visual designs and so on, effectively pitching our own ability to full-service clients. If we’re making this shift by design (which, by the way, is a woefully crowbarred reference to my own design background), then the strategy is somewhat grab-bag. User experience design can be a hard sell, but it has a certain purity of intent that can be evangelised. As we seek to extend our reach, that intent becomes less clear.

Maybe we are all just ‘designers’ after all, but if that’s true, I’ve got loads of profiles to update.

listening post: new order – senses