User Experience – please don’t let it become a car crash

Late in 2009 Jesse James Garrett gave a talk at UX Week entitled The State of User Experience. He talks a bit about where user experience came from and a bit about where he thought it was heading. It was an inspiring talk – a must see, and surely a has seen, for anyone in the field of UX.

That was just three short years ago. I’ll be honest: at that time I wasn’t a UX practitioner. I don’t really know what I was. I did a lot of development. I designed interfaces. I did research into users’ roles and goals, and I tried to craft bespoke, engaging and appropriate interfaces for clients. I didn’t use the term user experience. I didn’t know it existed. Then I got made redundant.

It was at exactly the same time as that happened that I discovered the field of UX. To me, it was like falling in love. I didn’t have to learn exactly how to go about being a UX practitioner, but I did have to learn what UX was. It was immediately apparent, however, that UX was all about me. It was about all the things that I cared about and believed in, but hadn’t until that point had a name under which to call it. My resonance with UX (and vice versa) was nothing short of love at first sight.

Three short years. In that time I have embraced the field of UX. I’ve networked, I’ve read books, I’ve watched so many videos, I’ve been to conferences – and even spoken at conferences and events. And I’m more than a little active at UX Stack Exchange. But essentially, I carried on with what I was doing before – except now I run my own business doing it. Having this term User Experience seemed great – it seemed to encompass so many aspects of the work I did, that I could use it as this umbrella term for the services I wanted to provide.

So I tout myself as a user experience designer – it seems as all encompassing a term as I can possibly use for what I do and what I want to convey. And, I hope it means that my potential clients understand what I can do for their own users, because, let’s face it I do still have a business to run – and an income to generate for my family.

Three short years. In that time I have seen user experience become more and more sought after by companies, who realise that what they needed is someone to help them with their user experience. And I love them dearly for it because they are the ones who care about their customers. Many though, do not – not necessarily because they actively do not not care, (although there are some of those too) but because they have not yet realised they need to care.

I observe those in the UX field around me and they share one common trait. Like me, they feel that they were born to be doing what they do. This is a job they love. It doesn’t even feel like a job. It’s a projection of self. It’s a passion – a quest to improve the lives of those who use our products and services, driven by our very soul, that seeks to improve and perfect every tiny detail of engagement. As Jesse says in the talk above: The user experience mindset is an acquired condition for which there is no cure.

But I’ve seen a trend in a direction which is starting to bother me. There are those who are calling themselves user experience designers who were not born with, nor have acquired this soul-driven empathy for their users. Yes. I know! To these people it is just a job. A job. Period.

And that bothers me because it affects those experiences, that don’t get quite the love they should. It affects the users who don’t quite get the experience they should. It affects businesses who don’t quite get the service they’re paying for or the employees they should be hiring. And it hurts the field of user experience itself, that doesn’t quite keep the reputation it should.

I want the field of UX to stay this unstoppable force of goodness and empathy and care towards people. The thought has occurred to me that there’s a chance it may not.

And that hurts me – like having a partner being a victim of a hit and run driver. A partner that I’ve been married to for three short years, but known for so much longer.

Please don’t let user experience become a car crash. I love her too much.

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1 Comment

  • Matt - November 19, 2012

    Great post Roger!

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