Some people think User Experience (UX) is about creating great designs. It is not. Would you like to know who thinks that? People outside UX, Interaction Designers, Graphic Designers, UX novices and mediocre UX practitioners.
Some people think UX is about creating empathy with your users. It is not. Would you like to know who thinks that? Above average UX practitioners.
Some people think UX is about creating sustainable business models. It is not. Would you like to know who thinks that? Nearly great UX practitioners.
The Hallmark of Greatness
I'd like to say that great UX practitioners think the same way I do about the core ethos of UX philosophy, but I'm not sure that they do. I am sure about one thing: Every truly great or potentially great UX practitioner I have had the outrageously good fortune to work with (and there have been many) behaves in the same way. While they all love making great empathy-based designs that are profitble for their enterprise patrons, more than anything else they want to bring people in and start the process of creating great designers.
Great UX practitioners don't push the geeks away during the design process. They don't push the business analysts away during the interview process.
Every now and then, they may dabble or learn a new offshoot of the practice (like service design, experience steategy or, for the truly brave designers, API strategy), but the great ones all come back sooner or later to the same place -- Instilling the basics of grounded design in others.
Sharing Time is Fun Time
The great UX practitioners are never pretentious, never secretive and never look to keep the elements and activities of design solely to themselves. It may not even be that they intentionally decide to share. It may be closer to the truth that they just can't keep all that UX designy goodness to themselves. They are so excited about their craft and the nuanced little insights it provides that they travel the world talking about them.
It sometimes seems that the best practioners have to stop designing altogether to keep all the speaking gigs going. When they are engaged on a project, you can spot them quite easily. They are the ones who are looking for every opportunity to pull in the shy geeks to the brainstorms, to pull in the left brained business types into the interviews, even to pull in the much-maligned project managers Into usability tests.
These titans of UX know a couple of truths:
- UX methods and practices are not riches to be hoarded. Great practitioners know that the more people who understand and participate in the design process, the better it is for all of us. UX as a discipline is still in its adolescence and still battles for recognition in private industry where HR departments have finally created unique salary scales and titles for people in UX disciplines. Every person who is familiar with the activities, deliverables and roles is one more person who will speak up to have UX included at the concept meetings.
- Breakthroughs will be pioneered by the outsiders. Great practitioners are students of history and know that the major breakthroughs in any field come from those who are not blinded by the conventions and paths that are so often trodden by the cookie-cutter masses produced by the educational system that cherishes conformity.
- UX philosophy is based in humanity. UX as a discipline draws its raison d'être from the idea that individuals count and deserve to be treated with respect. What better way is there to show you care about people than by offering to include them?
- Teaching and growing others is the most rewarding of activities. An enthusiastic student whose voracious hunger for learning UX as if it were a new toy is something that awakes the passion that has gone dormant after one to many corporate projects that have a UX person take a look at a nearly finished product so that they can say they did.
Try It, You'll Like it!
If you are one of the doubters, I urge you to try sharing on for size. Invite an engineer to participate in your next card-sorting activity. Watch their eyes light up when you explain not only the difference between an open and closed card sort (open sorts are used for structures where no navigation system is present and closed sorts can be used where navigation categories have already been defined), but how you can use them to create optimal user flow through a system. Invite a BA to accompany you for your next contextual inquiry session and watch the freak-out moment when they realize how much they have been missing by gathering requirements in meeting rooms with a strict question-and-answer format.
If, on the other hand, you are one of the outsiders who are shunned for their lack of a design degree. Show them this article and tell them: UX is not about creating great designs. UX is about creating more designers.