- I know I’m not a UX or business unicorn. Yes, I have a good track record of experience leading and delivering on strategic UX projects, but I don’t have deep skills in areas that some would argue are the price of entry for a UX Strategist. I possess no degree in a UX-related field—though my undergraduate degree in Political Science does seem to come in handy when navigating the politics of organizations. In recent history, the nearest I’ve come to coding was configuring UserZoom—which is easy to use!—and, before that, it was probably writing SQL queries in the late 90s. I’d like to think that I’m creative and can design elegant, simple user interfaces, but InDesign and Photoshop frighten me. I find spoken metaphor far easier than visual thinking—and though I find the latter more impactful and accessible—my handwriting and sketches are comparable to those of a kindergartener. Do I need to have these skills? Maybe, and others may consider such things core to being a UX Strategist.
- I’m hoping to have my thinking challenged here. I have opinions and consider some things to be conventional absolutes, but you’ll rarely see me write anything that claims I have the answer. (For example, I’m perfectly happy to assume there may be more than 10 Commandments.) I think UXmatters is a great place to have this conversation. I like to challenge things, and if I’m provocative, it’s with a point: I usually learn best when those who disagree or have alternative views provide positive and constructive criticism of my thinking.
We’re in an evolving field, and I’m moving my career and helping my company and clients move toward the human-centric mindset that many of us are so passionate about. With that in mind, in the remainder of this first column, I’d like to begin with some introspection on our current evolution, starting with us as UX professionals. I’ll discuss a few general personas that I’ve seen over time in our emerging industry, where I think I currently am in this mix, and where I see things moving.
UX Professionals: A Note to Selfies
It’s not provocative to suggest that our community has some issues when it comes to defining who we are, what we do, and how we identify ourselves. I need not revisit tumultuous, existential chapters in recent history or describe the various permutations of why IxDA isn’t like CHI, which isn’t like UXPA, which isn’t like IAI, which isn’t like HFES, which isn’t like the Service Design Network, which isn’t like VizThink—now VizWorld—which isn’t like CXPA, which isn’t like AIGA, which isn’t like … yeah, that. And the various UX-related conferences—breeding like rabbits—that are directly or loosely affiliated with one or more of these organizations. That, too. And the methodologies, the deliverables, the LinkedIn groups, the industry alignments—all of it.
In fact, there’s an 11% chance that, by the time you read this column, there will be an entirely new group, conference, or methodology—or on the other hand, another “dead claim.” (It seems that we have to declare something dead every few months or we get bored.) At times, keeping up with all of this seems like a full-time job. Is anyone tired of this yet? I am. It’s exhausting sometimes. But like a moth to a light bulb, I find myself irresistibly drawn to these well-trodden discussions.
UX Organizations: The Personas
Within this kinetic environment, I was thinking about our community, and I came up with three UX organization personas that I think capture the bulk of how we approach User Experience. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll focus this discussion mainly on organizational behaviors.
Broadly speaking, within each of these groups, I see three types of UX professionals. Before I define them, please know that I have very dear friends that I would personally classify as belonging to all three of these personas. I love them all. I’m sure we probably agree on as many things as we disagree on. And of course, to make my point, I’ll be playing with archetypes—which are really nothing more than the less-politically correct term stereotypes. Bottom line: please don’t get too hung up on this.
- The Purists—Every organization—UXPA, IxDA, CHI, IAI, and so on—includes a subset who feel that they are different from other groups for a variety of reasons. They aren’t wrong, because there are, indeed, differences in the slices of User Experience that they represent. The Purists like those differences. In fact, they far prefer doing their own thing to finding paths to collaborate. I’m not suggesting they feel that they are in any way superior to or better than any other group—though there most certainly is a subset of the subset who do feel that way. And some tend to view new or similar organizations with suspicion and use expressions like “land grab” or “that’s ours” when speaking about them. For example, at the first UX STRAT conference last year, within minutes of my feeling this incredible vibe about being with my tribe, there was a long discussion about the new Customer Experience (CX) crowd and how they’ve swooped in to claim ownership of things that we in the UX community have been doing and advocating for years.
- The Big Tenters—These are folks who may have a primary connection with one or maybe two UX organizations and are looking for ways to collaborate and build bridges between organizations. The thing is, they don’t just think that it’s okay for this to happen; they think it’s important that this should happen. UX professionals unite! I mean, why all the fuss? Can’t we all just get together in the desert and light the night sky with a big, 40-foot statue of Burning UX Persona Man? But, given the challenges of a global UX community and various locations’ relative levels of UX-market maturity, differing generational perspectives, core-competency strengths, strong personalities, and a host of other differences, the aims of the Big Tenters, while noble, are a bit Pollyanna-like. These people can also be a bit flat-footed in their efforts to unite groups, putting others off with what seems to be a holier-than-thou approach or having others perceive them as interlopers or a threat to their core beliefs.
- The Selfies—These people aren’t big on any of this organizational navel-gazing. They really don’t care—and are put off by the drama that debates of Purists and Big Tenters generate. They may once have been involved in all of this, but have punched out because they were exhausted, frustrated, or just uninterested in the whole mess. Or, as I think I’ve seen happening more and more, they’ve entered the field and haven’t found any strong need to affiliate beyond participating in broader social media channels and local, collegial meetups. They just want to do great work and find ways to get better at what they do. If they do attend a conference, it’s because the conference has specific content they want to partake of. They don’t care who is hosting it.