Why I killed UX

Yes, totally clickbait. Now that we have taken that out of the way let’s focus on the topic at hand: I manage a team of around 85 designers and I told all of them to stop using the term User Experience.

Actually, I told anyone who wants to listen to me: stop saying “user experience”.

Now, two things (maybe more) might be happening in your brain right now – you are either feeling a sense of rage and howdoyoudareness or you are thinking “I am intrigued; please, go on”. If you are thinking the former, I hear you. Can I ask you to trust me and please read on? if you are thinking the latter, I can only hope not to disappoint you.

Wiser people than me have already contributed to the debate on whether we can design experiences or not. I am not going to go there. That is a debate that gets very tricky very quickly and I think I fundamentally agree with the fact that yes, we can plan experiences. And services. And products. And whatever we get our mind to.

What I still can’t get my head around the fact that we will never be able to really know what is happening in the head of the people going through the experience (with current technology stack, that is). And that is ok.

We have to rely on good old behavioral metrics to gauge wether we are succeeding or not. And rethink those metrics constantly (remember when number of downloads of an app was a measure of success?). Julie Zhuo has written a great piece on metrics vs experience.

But I digress.

My problem with user experience is ownership.

The root of this is mentioned as a myth by Wodtke in the piece linked above: “UX designers are the user’s advocate.” This is due to some sort of cognitive bias that when we hear “User Experience Designers” we end up thinking that they are the ultimately responsible for all things user experience with catastrophic consequences: if the customer complains, well, it’s the guy responsible for the user experience’s fault, isn’t it? We give up control and ownership because some guy has some word in their job title.

Problem is that everyone’s is responsible for the user experience, not just user experience designers. In the moment an organization doesn’t understand this, we are in a very bad place to begin with.

Why did we impose ourselves this curse? because it did help our sales pitch back when. Using the same psychological trick that diet methods use to rebrand themselves constantly we “created” this new name for something that we were already doing. We formalized a set of tools, behaviors and methodologies to achieve better results. We did it because we had to do it (in a similar way to how nutritionist change diet names to appeal to the tradition of the new, ironically).

Another manifestation is the very often heard sentence that says “that is a good/bad/excellent/whatever user experience”. It makes me cringe: it’s lazy feedback (not actionable), it’s completely subjective and it has a ton more weight that it should. For some weird reason is used by people thinking that whatever they want to convey will be obvious by their audience and the user experience designers will know how to fix it immediately.

So, how do we put a stop to this? How can we move away from both the anthropomorphization and the shorthanding of user experience? Maybe if we stop using it, would we start unpacking what we actually mean? if we remove user experience from our titles, will be able to share ownership more organically? So, as a way to test this hypothesis, I went ahead and forbade its usage within my team. No more user experience designers (now, interaction designers). No more quick meaningless feedback. No more “I am responsible for user experience” (we all are).

We help plan the experience, we provide and request feedback that can be actioned on no matter how long it takes to express, and everyone is responsible of what our customers go through. Removing what has become a crutch forces the user to take the long path and make an effort to understand the situation and explain their actual point of view when evaluating an experience.

Will it backfire? maybe. Who knows. I have to give it try, don’t I?

I do believe language is a powerful technology that when leveraged properly can bring change. It will take time, but I like to think is for the greater good. Will it ever disappear? I don’t expect it to, that would be too presumptuous. I just want us to not be lazy.

See? there is method to the madness. Now, don’t get me started on UI vs UX vs SD.

All this I am talking about is potentially unique to the organization I currently work on. I am not saying this is a widespread problem or a solution that might work elsewhere. Hell,I don’t know if it will work in my own team. But at least we will have a very interesting discussion where hopefully the themes I talk about will surface. This post is part, hopefully, of a series of thoughts that I have now and then on how to make design work within an organization and, more importantly, make it valuable for both the larger team and the designers themselves.

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