Variety Is Truly the Spice of Life—but in the End, Variety Is Still Just a Spice
In a services consulting role, you might find yourself visiting multiple customers a week. Sometimes, in a week, I visit three to five customers in various industries. Inevitably and in a very short time, you see the same things over and over again. There are rarely new problems or unique situations where you are unable to draw upon your experience to suggest solutions. Reaching this level of expertise is somewhat of a mixed milestone. On the one hand, it means that you are a seasoned professional who is unflappable and has the experience to back up your decisions. On the others hand, it is also an indicator that you are ripe for becoming jaded. Acknowledging both of these points is the first step toward ensuring that you will continue down a UX path that not only gives you personal satisfaction, but also allows you to provide the best possible service to your customers and users.
One of the biggest challenges that I face professionally is being able to sit through multiple days of contextual inquiries with clients. When we engage with a new client or project, we like to do operational walkthroughs and examine the current applications that people are using. We talk with both the business and end users and are thus able to identify their goals for a new system or redesign. Customers are usually excited by this opportunity to talk with us and share their hopes, dreams, and of course, complaints. Their excitement is contagious and should serve as an energizing force that helps focus the work we are doing with them. Yet, oftentimes, I find myself wanting to wrap these sessions up quite quickly because it seems that we are seeing the same things over and over again.
Working with various industries helps, but what it also solidifies is that, whether you are working in the telecommunications, financial, healthcare, insurance, or another industry, there is a single constant: you are working with human beings and flawed systems that pretend human interactions are not important. When there is such a constant, central theme throughout your work, it becomes all too easy to try to apply the same solutions to every situation that crops up. In the field of UX, that is one of the most dangerous things you can do.
The Dangers of Becoming a Jaded UX Professional
User experience folks tend to have quite a lot of empathy by nature. It is certainly one of the strengths of the profession, and the best UX professionals have that trait in common. I would rather have a UX professional on my team who has limited formal education and strong empathy than the other way around.
Being jaded is absolutely like venom to empathy and kills it quickly and directly. For someone in a services consulting UX role, lack of empathy is a sure way to guarantee that you will not have radiation among your existing client base and will fail to attract new clients.
Admittedly, when you are trying to showcase that you know what you are talking about when it comes to UX solutions, while remaining excited and engaged with new clients, this is a tricky path to follow. You want your clients to simultaneously recognize that you know exactly what to do to solve their problems, but are also able to look at their issues with fresh eyes and come up with new ideas that will set them apart from their competitors. But getting to the point where you exude confidence to clients often means that you might have a certain jadedness about you.
The ironic thing is that UX professionals often see exactly the same level of world weariness in the very people they are trying to help. Almost every single customer I have visited has had a project with at least one user who has “seen it all.” The word transformation just does not exist in their vocabulary anymore. It used to be that these types of users were pretty similar with a company in terms of age and tenure. However, since the advent of accessible and robust consumer applications, I am seeing such jaded users grow younger and more junior within clients’ organizations.
A UX professional has only to take a moment to look at this type of user to recognize the dangers of emulating them. This is one case where empathy is certainly needed, but be careful about putting those shoes on. Instead, the empathy you have for this user should act as a lesson about how you should continue in this line of work and remain positive and energized. Look at how these people’s colleagues act and respond every time they put down ideas or act as a blocker to adopting a new approach. Feel their lack of energy and their world-weary attitude. Then ask yourself if that’s how you want people to perceive you whenever you walk into a room. Know that, if you are jaded, people will perceive you in exactly that way.