There is a strange phenomenon in the world of user experience design.
This happens when designers are asked to to pretend to do the design work and are not actually permit to do the design work. It happens when we are asked to do research that is never used. When we deliver conclusions that are put aside because they do not meet the expectations of executives or shareholders. When we are asked to run workshops in which staff masquerade as users because it is cheaper and faster than doing research with real users. Or when we can only redesign when the product is about to hit the streets, and it’s far too late for real design improvements.
This frustrating reality is an open secret within the user experience industry, and we’ve long accepted it as a normal consequence of working in a field that balances creativity and research.
We call it UX theater.
UX theater is easy to spot: it is the application of any sort of design methodology without including a single user in the process, or including users but only for the show.
Now let me reassure you that this is actually a great time to be a user experience designer. The terms “user experience”, “UX” and “user-centric design” have become staple pieces of business vocabulary. And everywhere you look, user-centered design is seen as a critical success factor in the development and delivery of products and services that meet the needs of target audiences.
But when you dig beyond the surface of the many projects that claim to be user-centric flagships, it seems like there are almost more projects. Branding themselves as a user-centric design that there are no projects that Actually user-centric design.
When you get past the rhetoric and post-its, you can start to see that there is very little âuserâ in the user experience. It is only lip service: everyone plays the role of the user, and the requirements are imaginary. And the resulting experiences are difficult to use, costing users time, money, privacy, or even security.
You might be willing to forgive a fledgling small business for not having the time and money to conduct user research. But it is less forgivable when a large company, or even a ministry, invests large sums without involving users.
So how’s the UX Theater going? I believe this is the result of two fundamental problems in our practice.
First, UX design is a loose concept and not as well defined as something like accounting or law. When executives embrace the term âuser experience,â their teams aren’t necessarily empowered to do all of the work that goes into designing the user experience. Designers find themselves in understaffed, poorly staffed or underfunded teams. Or worse, working in a team of one (the lonely “Unicorn UX. â) Budgets and schedules are cited as excuses to speed up user design and research. From the outside, these organizations can look like a shining example of user orientation; but inside, more effort is put into telling a user-centered story than producing user-centered results.
Among designers, we are constantly debating what we do and how we do it. Any day you will find all kinds of tweets and Medium articles on design methodologies, tools and the Eternal “Do designers have to code?“discussion. Not to mention:”What is UX design?âGenerally, there is agreement that user experience design is the process of defining the interaction your target audience will have with your product or service. Any attempt to further define the scope of our practice turns into debates over whether this includes product design, digital design, interaction design, service design, etc.
The struggle to clearly define our practice among ourselves, let alone explain it to non-practitioners, can actually hamper our ability to deeply embed user experience design into the functioning of our organizations.
This confusion over the breadth and depth of user experience design can be seen in the misapplication of concepts and methodologies like Design thinking. Design Thinking was developed as an advisory tool to help management take a more deliberate approach by innovating new services and products. The model has five stages: empathy, definition, idea, prototype, test. At first glance, this seems like a robust approach, but Design Thinking is often adopted as a substitute for the actual user-centric design, with activities carried out in-house and without users, ultimately resulting in a UX theater.
The second problem that leads to UX theater is that design is presented as something that anyone can do. In Designing for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Victor Papanek wrote: âAll men are designers. Everything we do, almost all the time, is design, because design is the basis of all human activity. This feeling was intended to convey that humans all have the capacity to think in a design way and that design is an inherently human activity.
However, just because everyone knows how to do math doesn’t mean everyone is an accountant.
When organizations adopt the ‘everyone’s a designer’ perspective, user experience design is recognized less as a practice led by skilled practitioners and more seen as a thought process that anyone can embrace and put into practice. implemented. Executives seem to misinterpret user-centered design as a euphemism for “thinking from the user’s perspective.” They don’t fund user research and don’t give project owners the flexibility to build teams that include the right mix of user experience practitioners.
The design process benefits from contributions from users and non-designers. In fact, everyone can and must participate in design. But the process needs to be led by design practitioners, who have skills in research, facilitation, systems thinking, prototyping, information architecture, writing, and visual communication. They are trained to design experiences that really put users first, reducing the likelihood of a UX theater.
Organizations that don’t understand design and invest very little in it tend to generate poor design results and outputs. The end results do not meet users’ needs, leading to complaints, feedback, bad reviews, and even lower profits. As a result, they may further devalue the UX design because it did not deliver the expected results. In this case, a bad UX does not generate UX. It is a destructive cycle.
If the root causes of UX theater are so broad, what can individual designers do to prevent it?
Preventing the UX Theater requires UX designers to do more than design. Because our practice is emerging and we are still in the education phase, designers often need evangelize for the user experience design in their organizations. We have to defend the needs of the users during the design and delivery process. And then we have to advocate for the very existence and funding of design teams in our organizations.
Like design, advocacy for design requires empathy and collaboration. We can help our organizations improve if we approach UX theater from a critical rather than a critical perspective. We can call UX Theater. We can show how testing and research help us design solutions to customer problems, and even anticipate potential problems with new products and services. We can share research findings widely to strengthen the use of data rather than opinions in design decisions. We can encourage a shift from âwe thinkâ to âwe have seenâ and âwe have heardâ.
We can mentor upwards and train design champions among the managers. We can be excited that they are interested in UX design even if they don’t quite understand it, and we can use their interest as an opportunity to show them what it really means. . We can share stories about designing the right way.
Designers don’t always have a say in how projects are structured or executed. And we can get frustrated, make small forays to find ourselves redoing UX theater. UX Theater is an open secret in the user experience industry, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as we can keep “the user” in the user experience.
Tanya Snook is a User Experience Designer for the Government of Canada. Tanya is the founder and co-chair of CanUX, the oldest user experience conference in Canada. She is also co-host of the Government of Canada UX network. You can find Tanya online at spydergrrl.com.