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The Steady UX Diet Versus the Magical UX Pill

April 11, 2016

No, this headline isn’t a joke about the increasing popularity of the term Lean UX. Rather, I am talking about the choices that organizations make in deciding how to adopt User Experience as a practice and improve the experience they are attempting to create. Do they apply User Experience through intermittent, quick fixes to rectify gaps in an experience? Or do they foster UX practices from beginning to end, throughout a development cycle? Is the team in a panic and scrambling for a magic UX pill? Or does a consistent intake of UX nutrients support the team’s process?

The UX Diet

The UX diet is all about preventative measures. One easy way to identify a team that has a steady UX diet is to see at what point they inject UX into their overall development process. If they involve user researchers and experience designers during a project’s discovery phase, that’s a positive sign. Involving User Experience in the generation of requirements rather than just the amendment of those requirements typically results in reducing the need for such amendments. In contrast, if a team hires a UX professional for a last-call, polish-it-off sort of engagement, the UX diet is likely absent. The driving force behind the UX diet is ensuring more precise, consistent validation of the direction a team is taking. It requires a long-term outlook.

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No, this headline isn’t a joke about the increasing popularity of the term Lean UX. Rather, I am talking about the choices that organizations make in deciding how to adopt User Experience as a practice and improve the experience they are attempting to create. Do they apply User Experience through intermittent, quick fixes to rectify gaps in an experience? Or do they foster UX practices from beginning to end, throughout a development cycle? Is the team in a panic and scrambling for a magic UX pill? Or does a consistent intake of UX nutrients support the team’s process?

The UX Diet

The UX diet is all about preventative measures. One easy way to identify a team that has a steady UX diet is to see at what point they inject UX into their overall development process. If they involve user researchers and experience designers during a project’s discovery phase, that’s a positive sign. Involving User Experience in the generation of requirements rather than just the amendment of those requirements typically results in reducing the need for such amendments. In contrast, if a team hires a UX professional for a last-call, polish-it-off sort of engagement, the UX diet is likely absent. The driving force behind the UX diet is ensuring more precise, consistent validation of the direction a team is taking. It requires a long-term outlook.

The UX Pill

Too often, companies avoid building User Experience into their long-term budget. There’s been a lot of talk about the disparity between the actual value of UX and the value of User Experience initially perceived by those who are unfamiliar with the field, as well as how misperceptions affect the amount of UX effort that ultimately ends up within the company’s budget.

Needless to say, we’ve all witnessed many opportunities for product design teams to employ a UX professional, only to have them opt out, saying something like: “Between the engineers, graphic designers, project managers, and other internal resources we already have, we can pull together some thoughts on the experience without spending the money on a dedicated UX resource.” Such statements justify minimizing budget in the near term, but usually at the expense of risking larger expenditures in the long run.

In my experience, what happens as a result of such reasoning is that teams create products that don’t truly reflect an understanding of the needs, desires, and painpoints of users, resulting in internal stakeholders’ panicking when they finally get some external feedback, then scrambling for better solutions. User Experience tends to be the source of those solutions. But, at this point, rather than User Experience having been steadily integrated into the organization’s design and development process, a team tries to bolt User Experience onto their existing way of doing things. This approach is usually problematic.

In such situations, UX professionals not only must perform UX activities, they must also educate the team about their UX activities. While this doesn’t have to be a daunting task, within an organization that has sought User Experience only as a quick-fix solution—a topical medicine to apply to a blemished experience—it can be difficult to go beyond discussing anything other than the beloved Lean UX. While Lean UX may be appropriate, it can fall short of what’s necessary to reveal deep insights and arm designers with the knowledge they need to solve a flawed product interaction.

Not only is educating the team yet another barrier that stands in the way of completing UX deliverables, the actual deliverables you can produce are most likely limited by the team’s desire to be Lean. Methods such as usability testing on multiple versions of an interactive prototype, diary studies, and large-scale contextual inquiries will likely suffer from a lack of time and insignificant sample sizes.

In UX-pill environments, teams tend to favor time and money over quality of implementation. The immediate win of proceeding quickly and inexpensively drowns out the call for useful methods that take more time. For that reason, situations involving the UX pill can be quite frustrating. This is not to say that Lean UX is wrong. It absolutely works and satisfies a lot of situations. But there are many product opportunities that require deeper discovery and validation phases, so these products may never see the light of day.

In an ideal world, scheduling constraints and monetary restrictions influence, but should not dictate the way in which UX strategy and planning are conducted. Ideally, a UX professional should be in charge of the following:

  1. Knowing exactly what is necessary to begin the journey toward creating a better user experience
  2. Defining a UX strategy and plan
  3. Implementing that plan

Whether a UX professional is influencing or merely reacting to a product-design environment really depends on the structure of that environment. The relationships between time, monetary resources, and a team’s current perception of the value of User Experience determine that construct—as does the extent to which a team is open to re-evaluating their perception of what User Experience brings to the table.

People Who say No to User Experience

Over the years, I’ve identified a couple of personas that tend to describe people who find it easy to resist User Experience: Launchers and The Safe Guys.

  1. The Launchers—These are people who are always in a rush just to make something real and get it out there. Ironically, the only thing they are rushing toward is hindsight. They believe that a focus on user experience and usability slows down the process of product development and would rather get something out there faster. The possibility of having to endure additional iterations of research and design to create something of actual value is not an inherent part of this person’s thought process. It’s not that they are unaware of User Experience and the value it may have, but that their priorities simply don’t allow them to pursue endeavors that don’t immediately produce something tangible. The Launchers’ motto: “Something. Now!”
  2. The Safe Guys—These team members are cautious. If they don’t know what they’re getting into, they tend not to get into it at all—particularly when it sounds buzzwordy. The key obstacle, as you might imagine, is a lack of education. These people simply do not understand the value of User Experience and the role it plays in reducing the number of iterations it takes to achieve a successful product. The field of User Experience is still relatively new. Uniform academic training does not exist. (Yes, there are academic programs, but many use different terminology, and they tend to put their own unique spin on User Experience.) Certifications vary in quality. Plus, there are too many who claim to be UX professionals, but have little or no true UX knowledge or experience. This ambiguity and a lack of standardization warrants The Safe Guys’ staying away—far away. The Safe Guys’ motto: “Go away, millennial, and take your witchcraft with you.”

How to Deal with People Who Say No to User Experience

Educate those who say no about the Return on Investment (ROI) of User Experience. Talk less about the specific tools and methods you would propose using and more about the why behind the practice of User Experience. Answer these questions: How many development hours does User Experience save on average? Why does User Experience reduce the need for updates and additional iterations in the future? Begin your plea for investing in User Experience by focusing on what the people in your organization generally view as the desired end result. Then, and only then, will they be receptive to your approach for getting there.

Conclusion

Somewhere out there, in the ether of the product-design universe, a vision of the perfect product exists. The exciting, but challenging part is figuring out how to discover that vision in as few iterations as possible. By employing a variety of discovery and validation methods, a product team can ultimately achieve implementation. But the degree to which a team can envision the perfect product is almost always proportional to the extent to which User Experience is engaged on a project. Consistently engaging User Experience helps a team to discover a holistic vision for their product. In contrast, sprinkling user experience on the product here and there generally results in a fragmented vision. While there may be situations in which the UX Pill can suffice and may even be the better choice, there are many more cases in which the UX Pill while rationalized is not warranted. 

UX Consultant at Slalom Consulting

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Dashiel NeimarkDash designs usable, enjoyable digital experiences that are driven by research and guided by the needs and desires of internal and external stakeholders. In his work, he draws upon his past experience in startups, UX consulting, internships, and freelancing, as well as the wealth of UX knowledge he gained through his journey to earn an MS in HCI. From concept to launch, Dash incorporates Lean and full-cycle UX tools and methods. He is always excited by future opportunities to play his part in delivering innovative digital solutions.  Read More

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