The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Carol Barnum—Director of User Research and Founding Partner at UX Firm; author of Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set… Test!
- Ronnie Battista—UX Practice Lead at Slalom Consulting
- Steve Baty—Principal of Meld Studios; President of IxDA; UXmatters columnist
- Drew Davidson—Senior Experience Director at ÄKTA
- Jessica Enders—Principal at Formulate Information Design
- Leo Frishberg—Product Design Manager at Intel Corporation
- Michael Griffith—Creative Director at Bottle Rocket Apps
- Steven Hoober—Mobile Interaction Designer and Owner at 4ourth Mobile; author of Designing Mobile Interfaces; UXmatters columnist
- Adrian Howard—Generalizing Specialist in Agile/UX
- Caroline Jarrett—Owner and Director at Effortmark Limited; UXmatters columnist
- Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
- Shane McWhorter—Executive Director, User Experience Strategy & Design at Product Concept, Design, and Experience
- Jim Ross—Principal of Design Research at Electronic Ink; UXmatters columnist
- Whitney Quesenbery—Principal Consultant at Whitney Interactive Design; Past-President, Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA); Fellow, Society for Technical Communications (STC); UXmatters columnist
- Baruch Sachs—Senior Director of Human Factors Design at Pegasystems; UXmatters columnist
- Janet Six—Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design; UXmatters Managing Editor and columnist
Q: What's a UX concept or practice that you wish would just go away? And why?—from a UXmatters reader
One True Way
“I wish that the idea that there is just one true way to practice user experience would go away,” replies Whitney. “We joke that, as UX designers, the answer to everything is ‘it depends’—but to some extent, it really does. We work in many different business environments and team structures. We work on different technical platforms, different devices, and most of all, for different audiences who are in different contexts and have different goals and activities. Sometimes we know an environment well; sometimes we are exploring new territory. Every practice or research method gives us answers. The hard part is deciding what the question is at any moment, on any project.
“Maybe that’s not the kind of answer you are looking for, but I find myself less interested in debating which usability method or design process is best and more interested in asking when and why it would be useful.”
“I would like to see the notion that any concept or idea is universally applicable go away,” says Steve Baty. “One of the most valuable things you can learn about a tool, technique, or method is not just how to use it well, but when to use it at all. Well-meaning and talented people achieve mediocrity every day by applying the wrong tool to a given situation. Whether it’s wasting time on wireframes when a working prototype would be better, hand-crafting personas for a team that’s already in tune with their customers, or adopting a mobile-first approach for an internal, enterprise application that will never run on a mobile device, there’s no end of waste out there arising from the poor choice of tools.”
“I don’t think there’s any UX practice that I’d like to completely disappear. Every one that I can think of has some context where it works well,” answers Adrian. “What I’d like to see vanish is the idea of One True Way of doing user experience.
“We need to look at our teammates and processes with the same eye that we use when observing the people for whom we design products. Look for opportunities. Look for waste. Find better ways of doing things. I’m bored with discussing whether personas are the best thing since sliced bread or a pointless waste of time. I’m bored with discussing whether lean UX is fantastic and new, what everybody has been doing forever, or antithetical to great design. I’m much more interested in our figuring out the contexts in which practices help or hinder. That’s a harder discussion to have, but would be much more productive.”
Expecting Perfection and Pixel-Perfect Design
“I have lots of specific objections to a focus on pixels, to a mindset that discourages design approaches from moving to other platforms, and to designers and developers saying nasty things about platforms that don’t provide adequate tools to support their visions of what makes a perfectly predictable platform,” exclaims Steven Hoober.
“But most of all—because this viewpoint hides a deeper issue—I reject the idea that there would be no problems if we just had perfect control of a product; always knew what users were doing, what device they were using, and their location; and we could always make a design that we’ve specified appear perfectly on any screen. I reject the idea that we could ever achieve 100% check-out rates for shopping carts or that everyone would have perfect satisfaction with the results of any process.
“It’s time to acknowledge that is never going to happen. That it never can happen in the universe we all live in. Our products are too complex. We cannot understand the motivations of every user, and all of this happens in a real and messy world. We have to begin designing for mistakes, uncertainty, and imperfection.”
Imitating Other Companies
“The UX practice that I wish would go away is the imitation of other companies’ user experiences that have nothing to do with your own,” asserts Baruch. “I hear on a daily basis from customers who tell me, ‘We want our site or application or product to be the next Apple or Google.’ The problem is that their companies are neither Apple nor Google. They have their own strengths and lines of business that do not make such imitation feasible. Instead of focusing on their strengths and differentiators, they focus on a complex game of UX oneupmanship. They want their user experiences to simply copy the features and functionality of their competitors’ products. What that does is reduce design solutions to a level of sameness that inhibits creativity and the ability to lead the pack rather than follow it.
“As UX professionals, we have to take responsibility for creating experiences that are the most amazing experiences people could have when interacting with our site or application or product. To get there, we have to do the hard work of creating rather than imitating.”
“I might not say that I wish it would just go away, but I think lean UX is definitely a mixed blessing,” remarks Jessica. “The key original concept of lean is about efficiently testing assumptions and approaches, then iterating in response to what you learn. (See ‘The Lean Startup Methodology.’) This philosophy aligns beautifully with creating great user experiences. But the danger surrounds what it means to test efficiently.
“I’d wager that UX professionals who conduct quality research with users are in the minority. As Anders Ramsay says in his great post ‘Agile UX vs Lean UX—How They’re Different and Why It Matters for UX Designers,’ ‘Many UX designers give lip-service to the idea of user-centered design, but don’t actually spend a lot of face time with real users.’ On the one hand, lean UX—see Jeff Gothelf’s presentation ‘Lean UX: Getting Out of the Deliverables Business’—undoubtedly encourages some UX professionals to ‘get out of the building’—see Steve Blank’s post ‘Ardent 2: Get Out of My Building.’ But on the other hand, many probably use some pretty flaky research practices.
“For instance, ‘grabbing whoever walks by’ does not a quality sample make. I used to work as a survey methodologist at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and this was mildly termed a convenience sample and promptly relegated to the pile labeled ‘Never use for anything remotely important.’ If you think your user research method doesn’t really matter, try building an application for miners and test its use only above ground; leaving people with low literacy out of the error analysis for a form; or running trials on a public transport Web site only during school holidays. You’ll find out the hard way that when it comes to user research, efficiency doesn’t make up for poor quality.
“So, by all means, get to know lean UX and draw from that approach when it’s appropriate for your context. But remember, there is no substitute for thoughtful, rigorous design processes—which can still be fast and cheeky! For ideas on how to achieve that, read Cennydd Bowles and James Box’s book, Undercover User Experience Design.”