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UX is Destroying the World! Will UX Come to the Rescue?

My article from last week was a labor of love and I was pleased with the quality of the Twitter response. The big shortcoming of the article, correctly pointed out by my editor, is a shortcoming of my articles in general. It is not even close to accessible to the audience on CMSWire. My use of terms like "reductionism," "monists" and "unary thinkers," while precise and evocative, are not the best choice in terms of audience accessibility. This lack of accessibility from a writing perspective is akin to making a functional site or interface intimidating and lacking in affordance (another fancy UX word).

UX Basics

The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman, is most often pointed out as one of the, if not the seminal, works that grounds a large portion of UX thought and practice. One of it's central claims: If difficulty emerges when attempting to use a product, it is the fault of the designer and not user. In much the same way that It is up to designers to create designs that are both immediately understandable by new comers through the use of affordance and quickly graspable metaphor, it is up to writers, bloggers and content strategists to make ideas and concepts accessible in their use of language and visceral metaphor.

There are many benefits from making things easily understood. The benefits from this philosophical orientation are everywhere in terms of user happiness, higher profits, lower costs, and even increased public health when UX comes to the medical and health-care arenas. These sorts of benefits are widely accepted and are the reason that UX practices have gained a foothold within corporate america, higher education and academia.

What About the Costs?

I'm not talking about the transactional costs of hiring designers and engaging in research activities. The verdict on the ROI of UX is in and it is only a matter of time before the practices become viewed as closer to necessity than luxury for any project with a significant investment of time and money. The costs I don't see people talking about are the sociological ones from both the messages inside UX philosophy and the result of the daily interactions with interfaces and written works that aim to be accessible at the lowest levels.

If difficulty in use is to be blamed on the designer, and interfaces get better over time, the challenges that humans face in society will not as often require us to use our analysis and problem-solving skills. Of course there are higher-level problems such as poverty, disease, the environment — the list goes on and on — but it is the lower-level problems that we encounter every day that train our brain and our consciousness to engage in, and succeed at synthesis and solutions. Have society and the human condition gotten better from making the world easier to navigate? I'm not sure about this one, but the cranky old men of the world sure don't think so.

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The Slow Death of Nuance

If difficulty in comprehension is to be blamed on the writer, then writers, bloggers and content strategists will push themselves to get more simple in their use of written words. In the same way that good user experiences and interfaces render complex series of actions simple through a visual interface (or through an awesome API for the API geeks in the house), writers will then be pushed to bury nuance and distinction in simpler language to be accessible to the masses. As articles, blogs and other written forms are driven to accessibility, will public discourse be far behind? I would argue that public discourse has actually been in the lead, given the ideological narratives, espoused by both sides, that abound on television and radio.

As we continue to bury nuance and distinction, I fear we will lose the ability to describe, see or understand the distinction between different ideas, concepts and artifacts. Many of the great philosophers and writers throughout history have claimed that the ability to identify, understand and communicate distinction is the basis for all knowledge, progress and wisdom in society. The more that nuance and distinction are buried, the more we tread down the road to anosognosia — a condition in which a person who suffers from a disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of their disability.

The Silver Lining

What will take us off this path to destruction? Where will people find challenges that hone their problem-solving skills, raise their awareness of nuance and distinction? A recent outcome of the UX movement that many people are familiar with is gamification. Many UX practitioners have just discovered the value that games and game mechanics can add to their products and and services and the application of these principles and ideas vary widely (articulated quite fabulously by the ever-brilliant Kathy Sierra).

I do believe that the rising popularity of games will help people in developing their analysis and problem-solving skills and I have to hope that some brilliant game designer with a passion for language will eventually turn their head toward making a game that helps people develop their skills for identifying and communicating distinction. If only it were as simple as "Draw Something!" Or maybe it is. Anyone up for developing "Write Something!"? 

 
 
 
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