April 22, 2011

We’re hip. We’re in. People like us. It feels good, right? We’ve spent years banging our heads against the corporate wall and desperately evangelizing UX to anyone that would listen. All this effort feels like it has finally paid off.

I can’t walk down the street or flip through my inbox without running into a UX recruiter. The BBC is spreading the word. Hell, Google hires User Experience Designers, what else does a business need to know? It feels like we’re witnessing a UX Gold Rush. They “need” us and they need us now. Damn it feels good to be a UX gangsta.

Here’s the Problem

Like so many trends, fads, and can’t miss ideas that have come before us we are in a dangerous arena. UX is quickly becoming the latest and greatest buzzword in business. You know it too. Think about the meetings you’ve attended where the focus is UX. These are meetings you almost don’t have to prepare for. You know UX methods, success stories, and can detail the benefits in your sleep. Then the decision maker tells you, “We need better user experience. Make our website have better user experience. I like how Apple’s website looks – do that.” This isn’t really new, we’ve always had these conversations. What’s different now is that the org believes they know what they’re talking about. What’s scary is they are less interested in your expertise and more interested in saying they’ve “done the user experience thing.”

What Becoming a Buzzword Means

New business methods come and go. When something is hot for one company, others trend towards this idea. Picture a pee-wee league soccer game. The kids rarely score a goal. The ball gets kicked a few feet and the group gathers around it. It’s kicked again and the group follows. Rinse and repeat. It’s entertaining when it’s a group of children. When it’s a company trying to turn a profit, well, that’s just depressing.

By far the biggest danger of becoming a buzzword is that decision makers will see UX as a trend. Remember what we tell our clients, “If a user has a bad experience with your company (be it the interface, the customer service, or the advertising) they’ll drop you and go to your competitor.” UX is no different. If a company has a bad experience with UX (or a UX practitioner), for whatever reason, they’re likely to see it as a failed experiment and move their group to wherever the soccer ball is now.

Here’s the Solution

Do it right. It’s our job as practitioners to ensure when we deliver that we deliver well. There are pioneers in every field. For us it’s the Normans, Nielsens, Spools and Brenda Laurels of the world. I won’t say that because we’re UX practitioners right now that we’re necessarily the next wave of pioneers. I will say we are in an era where the business world is beginning to look our way. The spotlight is moving in our direction. We’ve been evangelizing UX for years. We’ve been decrying those who refuse to listen to what we have say. It’s time to go beyond evangelizing and move to demonstrating. We know UX is bigger than a buzzword. Now it’s on us to show it.

Posted In User Experience.