The Nitty-Gritty

Mar 1, 2019

The Mysterious Role of the UX Professional

I’ve been studying and working in the field of UX for almost 18 years and many things have changed during that time. The biggest changes, of course, are the devices - the technology we use to work, to play, to complete a plethora of tasks every day.

However, one thing that is still frustratingly stagnant is that many people - including those within the software development field - do not understand what user experience work actually is. The role of the UX expert is still mysterious to many and they don’t understand how it can benefit their processes, or how including UX in the overall design strategy can improve services and reduce support and development costs. And sadly, I still get introduced to stakeholders as the team member who will make our services ‘pretty’.

This idea that aesthetics, pushing pixels around a screen, is what UX is all about is pervasive, even within UX groups themselves. If you search online, you can find many definitions of what UX is or what a UX expert does. Many equate UX to designing the visual user interface. Others warn that UX UI will “Make or Break you | Don’t skip this step!” suggesting that UX is a single step in a process that can be checked off and ‘done’. Some even tout ‘Make it pretty’ as the first step in their ‘UX’ process. With so many claiming that their visual design work is ‘UX’, it is understandable that many folks do not have a clear idea of what UX is or should be.

A recent report from InVision [1] surveyed 2200+ designers in various industries around the world. They looking at how companies have incorporated UX into their processes and overall strategic plans and found that companies with the lowest design maturity (level 1 of 5) concentrated almost entirely on just the visible aspects of design.

“Level 1 companies are focused only on the most visible aspects of design—the pixels on the screen. At this level, organizations make early attempts to create efficiency and a consistent story through visual identity guidelines but neglect processes, collaboration, and advanced tools.”

In contrast, the level 5 companies had incorporated design throughout their strategic plans and were described much differently.

Level 5 companies are robust in all dimensions of maturity, but what really separates them from others is design’s involvement in strategy. Design brings a unique lens to strategy through exploratory user research techniques, trends and foresight research that assess product market fit, and the delivery of unified cross-platform strategies. As a result, Level 5 companies report that design has impact on the widest range of benefits, from employee productivity to growth in market share to the development of new intellectual property.”

“They’re the ones using technology and design to redefine the standards for customer experience and business process excellence.”

Within any organization, we need to strive to incorporate user experience design into all we do, moving our organizations to a higher level of design maturity and understanding. We also need to help educate those around us as to what UX is and the benefits it can provide when fully integrated into the development process and not just to superficially ‘make it pretty’.

Wikipedia defines User experience design as - “User experience design (UXD, UED, or XD) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product.” [2]

And of course, the foundational ISO definition for usability is “the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.” [3]

So, this week, I want to challenge everyone that calls themself a user experience designer/architect/practitioner - whatever name you go by - to think about what you do and the role others on your team ascribe to you. Consider the impact that you can and should have on the product you work on. What does your work mean for the end user? Are you actively improving the experience for those folks? If your work does not move beyond the aesthetics, (unless you are strictly a visual/graphics designer - in which case, this does not apply to you) go deeper. Improve usability and process. Get feedback. Advocate for your users. We need to bring a focus to all aspects of UX, if we are going to improve our projects - not just the visual.

Thanks for reading!

[1] The New Design Frontier - Invision
[2] User Experience Design - Wikipedia
[3] Usability - Interaction design Foundation


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