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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

inheritance in user experience design

by which, I mean, inheriting someone else’s user experience design, or proposal, or thesis, or presentation, or, even, 5 year plan. there is nothing quite so painful but satisfying as developing your user experience methodology and describing, in the most insightful of prose, the application of the process unto the design challenge that is the growth target that begets the business that spawns the project that produces the artefact that describes the outcome that provides the design solution. from whence that design solution was so eloquently detailed is the brainism that you channelled and distilled and expertly crafted into methods and practices and timelines and checkpoints that spake of some experience alchemy magick’d up from your mind cauldron.

in other words, its nice to define a process that supports a practice that enables you to deliver against your goals and make the online world that little bit better each time. actually, that last bit might be a rather grandiose and pompous blart, but without there being kind of user experience light at the end of the funnel towards which we steer the online improvement charabanc, why would we bother?

therefore, having just said whatever I just said there, it’s a significantly greater challenge to mind-mangle a process design when it actually begins as someone else’s. I’m currently co-working on a proposal for developing an experience design practice that helps enable a business transition. except that proposal is someone else’s and I’m collaborating on the further development and enhancement to get it to where it ends up on a projector in a boardroom and people start raising their eyebrows and checking their iphones for status updates from farmville, but its a good challenge. its also a challenge that’s likely to make the outcome more successful. in this case, the two heads are much better than the one head. the one head being mine.

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