UXPaul McAleer

You're Doing it Right: A Collection of Short Essays on UX

UXPaul McAleer

Essay One: Much UX education is really UI education

UX education, as a whole and with exceptions, is relying on getting people up to speed on tools in order to convey a sense of competency and achievement. This is problematic for a multitude of reasons. First, it positions UX solely as a UI (and IxD, if you're lucky) exercise. It focuses mostly on the visual interface, because many of the tools out there that are "for" UX are UI tools. Thus, these tools and educators that follow this model are defining user experience as interaction design. This is not inherently bad, but it is rather short-sighted. This allows students to learn about an interface without context, a hierarchy without an overriding taxonomy, a series of interactions that look cool but can alienate.

This focus on the interface typically occludes asking why said interface is being created in the first place; it doesn't encourage deep critical thought beyond the site- or app- specific interactions. Yes we can question why the hierarchy of a product details page is the way it is; no we can not question why this product details page is selling something no one actually wants. (This is a simple and extreme example, but, still gets to the point.)

What goes into a "proper" UX education? Great question. I don't have all the answers. But ideas are free so: the liberal arts, the humanities, interaction design, architecture, information architecture, systems design, interface design, research techniques and methodologies, visual design, typography, writing, editing, communication, industrial design, ethics (ethics, ethics, ETHICS), software design, critique, persuasion, salespersonship.

That's probably not even all of it. And not every position will need all those skills, anyway. But I would personally much rather work with and hire people who have a broad base of understanding, because I would also see them figuring out the screens later. Designing a good screen is a neat thing, and important, but it is not the only thing.

Essay Two: Certification is a good idea

I have been asked candidly by people looking to get into UX if certain programs or certifications are "worth it". My answer is almost always no. But I absolutely see the value in establishing practices and standards; there simply isn't a high, broadly-shared consensus of what those items should be out there yet. It's a chicken and egg problem: if there aren't standards around UX (and there aren't), how can one know if one is hiring a qualified designer? (Yes, insert your answer here.)

It would be pretty amazing, as a hiring manager, to know that I could hire Michael and know she has been accredited to be a UX designer. Or, seeing that Barry is on their way to becoming accredited. It would help me quickly get an understanding of where they are in their careers and where they are headed, prior to an in-depth interview. After all, one could have 10 years of experience "in UX" and not have done a lick of research, or had a hard presentation. That same person could be a freaking UI code genius, which may not be a skill I need.

This all said, I must acknowledge that this is exclusionary. I'm okay with this, with a caveat: any certification program must put diversity first, because the entire field and industry benefits from it. This is not an easy thing to figure out, and no one organization, school, or governing body can go it alone.

Essay Three: Bold, ignorant declarations hurt our discipline

I joked earlier this year about the rotating series of topics within UX, suggesting that there was a new topic every week but they ultimately rotated like a carousel (hey! carousels!) and everyone got mad and upset and then went on. And that's proven out. I don't think it's inherently bad; rather, it's symptomatic of a lack of agreed-upon standards and practices for our industry. When people write hot takes about how UX is dead because they just heard about research, or how everyone is doing this thing wrong, or how user experience was invented 22 years ago, it is ignorant. I don't think it's done maliciously; it's mostly due to a lack of context which, hilariously, is like the most important thing in UX work, for goodness' sake.

But where is that context obtained? There are publications. There are websites. There are books. There are organizations. But there isn't one place that serves as the entry point, housing our shared history and how this work traces back well before 1995 (for instance). There's a danger here, as history is written by the victors, so the values and contributions of people who are not cis white men must be given its proper credit. As I asked in a series of questions on Twitter a while back, who is telling these historical stories? Where are the stories of the women driving UX forward? Where are the stories of the queer people who make IxD better? I want those stories. And anyone learning UX, I would hope, would too.

Without it, we end up with big essays that get a ton of [insert stupid-metric-du-jour], and fade from our collective memories in moments. It hurts our discipline.

Essay Four: You're doing it right

Until we get a more cohesive agreement and view on our work, we're kind of all winging it. We develop processes. We steal good ones. We toss away bad ones. We make up shit. We research and try and research and fail and research and succeed. We develop a real curriculum. We create structure where there's a mess. We question if UX is real or not. We educate ourselves and our clients. We are creating our own silos – which is why a shared knowledge is more critical than ever. But the most important message here is that you are doing it right. You're making the best decisions you can given the context. And by that measure, you're doing just fine. Keep going.