The User Experience Community is Thinking too Small

Reading OK/Cancel: The User Experience Community is Thinking Too Big all I could think was dudes, can we […]

Reading OK/Cancel: The User Experience Community is Thinking Too Big all I could think was dudes, can we collectively move on now? How small and petty is the community if we even ask questions like “who owns user experience?” (though admittedly it packs the seats) At the multi-organization panel on the previous question, I joked that fairly often IA has owned it, mostly because they tend to do what nobody else is doing (like neatly organzing pages), and often no one has bothered to think about the overarching experience. Odd, that.

But does the discipline of IA own UX? Nah, it’s not possible. In fact, UX doesn’t own UX. The best work ever for the “user’s experience” is done by multidisciplinary teams and by multidisciplinary team I don’t mean a designer and IA and a researcher, I mean the real kind in which programmers and product managers and marketing gets their hands dirty in the brainstorming and visioning and making and playing.

Still worried about the ROI of design? It’s done, people– read businessweek as well as alistapart for a change, and you’ll see everyone is already on board! Hass and Standford are adding design to their curriculum, the MFA is the new MBA, and so on and so on…. They are sold on what you do: now you have to actually live up to their expectations. Scared yet?

It’s time for all the usual suspects to stop sniping at their neighbor in the next cube, and start making– making new products, making new relationships, making new learnings, making new markets, making new ways of business.

Don’t worry about the professional organizations that are blooming like mushrooms in the rain– enjoy them, and grab some of the juicy templates and articles that show up on AIGA and AIFIA and so on. Don’t bag on the usability people, ask them to find out some new stuff for you to work with, and hey, ask them what they think of blue, anyhow. Design’s not so precious a power that you can’t ask for someone’s two cents.

YOU AREN’T YOUR TITLE, and if IA becomes the standard title, or ID, or IxD or whatever, who cares… let’s go design some cool new stuff.

The presentation I gave in Scandinavia reminded me of how exciting things are right now…. not since ’99 have we seen so many new interesting applications of data, technology and knowledge. Do you really want to be wasting your time fighting over who gets to choose if it’s a drop-down or a radio button when you could be jamming on the next flickr or newsmap?



Add Yours
  1. 1

    Too Big? Too Small?

    When I gave my presentation, one person asked me, by way of a statement, “I think the UX community should be thinking bigger”. Except he gave no indication of what he meant by bigger.I gave three distinctly different definitions of “too big” and they’r…

  2. 2

    The User Experience Community is Thinking Just Right

    Or: Sit down, shut up, and do your work. First off, let me make you aware of my title: Ozymandias. Secondly, a quick reminder: Sit down, shut up, and do your work. Somebody hired you to do a job. Do

  3. 3
    Considered Design

    Ownership of user experience

    I’m grateful to work in a small institution where I wear all four hats (design, IA, usability, development), and that the sometimes divisive conversations about UX between designers, IAs, and usability specialists for me take the form of an intermina…

  4. 4
    Colony: Perceived Needs

    Christina is so right!!!

    I was catching up on my blog reading and was checking out Elegant Hack , and saw Christina’s comments on UX folks thinking too small. I totally agree with her, and occasionally catch myself doing that too. It is easy

  5. 5

    Hear…hear!!! You said it da the right way, sistah.
    Posted by ML at December 20, 2004 02:48 AM


    Your title sounds like it’s saying the opposite of me, but your content says exactly the same things. “You are not your title”, “Who owns the user experience” being a dull question are both points I had hoped I was making but either I was not clear or you’re referring to the discussions ensuing the article 🙂
    Posted by Kevin Cheng at December 20, 2004 04:51 AM


    Can I get an Amen? A-MEN!

    (Does this mean my pending subscriptions to The Economist and HBR are deductable? I thought so.)
    Posted by Brett Lider at December 20, 2004 09:00 AM


    Maybe I’m being curmudgeonly, but I sadly disagree. “Sadly” because, while I agree in theory ;), in practice we are our titles. Try getting a job (be it permanent or contract) by telling recruiters that you’re a “user experiencer.” I can imagine saying, “Well, it doesn’t matter whether I’m an information architect or interaction designer or visual designer or usability engineer. After all, these are just labels, aren’t they? Can’t we all just get along?”
    At that point, the MEGO’ed recruiter will slowly hang up the phone/close the door. I met with a recuriter in Richmond who’d been working in technology recruiting here for 10 years (10 years!), yet he’d never heard the term “user experience.” I also worked with another recruiter in the same area, trying to get a contract position as a business analyst (see below)–and she said the same thing.
    Perhaps it’s just this area, or maybe the entire South?

    This Business Analyst position is the closest to a UX job I’ve seen in Richmond in the last three years!
    Required Skills
    Bachelor’s degree, preferably in MIS, CS or Engineering.
    Business System Analyst experience (3 -5 years.)
    Full life cycle project methodology experience and the ability to comply with SDM processes and procedures. Lead business and technical resources to define business and system requirements for web-based content mgmt and portal applications.
    Ability to articulate systems capabilities and constraints with regards to business process performance.
    Ability to develop business cases
    Exceptional interpersonal and communication skills.
    Proven ability to work with executive level staff and business customers and users
    Presentation skills
    Ability to work independently
    Ability to work on multiple projects initiatives simultaneously.
    Ability to take on Project Management activities for small to medium size projects or workstreams
    Ability to work in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment.
    Proficient in Microsoft tools.

    Web Content Mgmt expertise(preferably Fatwire)
    Portal Expertise (preferably BEA Weblogic)
    Collaboration and Knowledge Management expertise
    Experience in developing requirements and designs for Web-based systems
    Information architecture and usability experience
    MBA degree or Masters in MIS, Computer Science, or Engineering.
    Experience with Agile Development methodologies including SCRUM and
    Extreme Programming
    Use Case Design
    Posted by joe at December 20, 2004 12:02 PM


    Err…my URL is Sorry for the typo!

    Posted by joe at December 20, 2004 12:04 PM


    Maybe the *user* owns UX.
    Posted by Bill Seitz at December 20, 2004 12:31 PM


    No, you aren’t your title, because the hci/ia/ux/etc titles are meaningless. Anyone can claim any title they want. No one is stopping them. Worse, no one is defining them in a way that is meaningful.

    “How small and petty is the community if we even ask questions like “who owns user experience?” (though admittedly it packs the seats)”

    Very small and very petty, obviously.

    “I joked that fairly often IA has owned it, mostly because they tend to do what nobody else is doing (like neatly organzing pages), and often no one has bothered to think about the overarching experience. Odd, that.”

    The sad part of it is that people don’t realize that it’s a joke. Self titled IAs are reinventing the wheel, sometimes badly, often in total ignorance that it was invented long before, and they then wonder why they don’t get more recognition for their “invention”.
    Posted by Ron Zeno at December 20, 2004 02:07 PM


    I think you are so right on. I have a problem w/ this statement though:

    Still worried about the ROI of design? It’s done people– read businessweek instead of alertbox for a change, and you’ll see everyone is already on board! Hass and Standford are adding design to their curriculum, the MFA is the new MBA, and so on and so on…. They are sold on what you do: now you have to actually live up to their expectations. Scared yet?

    While academia has given us their blessing the board room hasn’t yet and we still do need to prove ourselves over and over again. Especially in the in-house space and especially in organizations who’s business was generated from a business or hard technology background. While there are lots of successes of companies that have internalized design in them, these are the exception that we need to be following. Most designers are still struggling for their seat at the table.

    That being said, like I said, I basically agree w/ you about all this.

    I do think though that there are different goals that need to be explored when thinking about UX. What I still sense from attempting to work within the UXnet framework is that many people are there, and many many more don’t even get where there is. What I mean to say is that the group that seems to get it, get what UX is all about is actually a lot smaller in size compared to those that don’t get it and still see their little worlds as being “UX”.

    The other program, is around how do we educate and communicate internally with each other. While I believe that you and also Lou R. (you can see his blog entry which got me here) might not see this from your position, but I find I spend a lot (way too much energy in fact) just educating people on what it is makes up UX. Should I have to do this work? Of course not, everyone should just get it, but wishing it away isn’t going to mean that everyone will understand. AND when we think about the development of formal education it gets even more complex because programs have to be named and cirricula written and so on, and terminology use and controlled vocabularies are key to making a good university program successful.

    So to summarize, I believe in the spirit of what you are saying, I just think you are ahead of your time on some of these issues.

    BTW, I find it really funny that you take issue w/ OK-Cancel b/c in the end you are both saying the same exact thing which is “Just do it!”
    Posted by Dave at December 20, 2004 02:24 PM


    I think we are saying similar things, in that we are saying stop navel gazing and get down on it. But I’m suggesting some folks should aim higher, act more strategicly, become part of business, while I *think* he is saying mind the details, be professionals, justify your work with numbers. Both approaches are fine actually, and both better than continually griping. I disagree with ROI activities because I don’t think that accurately represents the value of UX (see my partner Scott Hirsch’s work on that , from when he was at Adaptive Path). But overall either spending more time building cool things or spending more time building cool strategies is better than trying to come up with yet another label for what we do, or another essay on why– instead explaining value, what if we just *be* valuable.

    So I guess Kevin and I don’t disagree so much as we have different ideas about what to do with all that free time we’ll get when we stop complaining so much.

    And Joe honey, you aren’t’ your title, you are a amazingly smart man who will still be creative and insightful even if your title is business analyst. Go do that, or product manager, and make your job creative and user centered.

    more here on the undebate…. Too Big? Too Small?
    Posted by christina at December 21, 2004 06:18 AM


    (and now get to work)
    Posted by frank at December 21, 2004 06:36 AM


    I couldn’t agree more with Christina.

    When I think of all the calories expended in making specious distinctions between information architecture, information design, and experience design, and so forth, and then I look at all the lovely but not-serviceable sites out there and all the ugly but not-serviceable sites out there…well, it makes me tired.

    As opposed to academia, in the real world making elegantly designed sites clearly is not the province of any particular design practitioner. Unfortunately, in the real world, the business is where the fate of design is decided. (Yes, business analysts often set the ground rules.)

    Our professional responsibility as practitioners, no matter what we are called, is to know our individual limitations and make sure the gap is filled by someone on the team. A good visual designer making a site that lacks in usability is demonstrating not only a deficiency of ability but of professional responsibility.

    All else is ego. Unless it’s provocation for the sake of provocation, Dirk Knemeyer’s The End of Usability Culture ( is just spitting in the wind.

    As for our professional organizations, instead of squabbling who owns what piece of theoretical real estate, they should be working on providing health insurance coverage!
    Posted by Adele Framer at December 23, 2004 12:52 PM


    Looks like someone’s been reading Creating Breakthrough Products by Cagen & Vogel… if not, it’s a fine read, especially for those who aren’t geared this way…
    Posted by Joe 10 at January 2, 2005 09:57 AM


    Good news Christina!

    I agree wholeheartedly. Now, what we actually need is people who have MFAs or at least some approval for ‘creative types’ setting some examples.

    It’s time in culture when the pendulum moves back towards the wide lapels and funky waiting rooms, and in order for us to be able to answer the funkier questions, we’d better get funky.

    Take a bite and give a dam.

    CD Evans
    Posted by CD Evans at January 9, 2005 04:02 AM


    CD, you are half wrong. Creatives need to learn enough about business (and you do NOT need to drop everything and earn a MBA– it’s plenty to read a few books and magazines and listen) to step up and make space for good relevant work. No more waiting for a mentor or champion or knight in white armor. Nope, just hard work, reading up on the issues, paying attention to the part of the meeting where they talk with numbers, words and not just pictures and getting involved early.

    I do agree about giving a damn and taking a big bite. But learn enough about business to know which part of the apple is rotten!
    Posted by Christina Wodtke at January 10, 2005 09:42 PM



    The rate with which UX is being adopted by all kinds of disciplines is really amazing. And that interaction provides new points of view and new methods. Very interesting developments
    Posted by Onno at January 20, 2005 10:11 PM


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