I don't like writing "top tip list” articles even though they get lots of readers. I don't like writing SharePoint articles, even though they get even more readers. I don't like “UX litmus tests” (UX is for user experience). I don't like any of these things.

But what I like even less are the hordes of UX poseurs who glom on to the movement and sell themselves as UX experts when they are little more than shops with a dude semi-proficient with Adobe Photoshop.

Spotting The Poseur In The Wild

A significant component of my disdain for the poseurs is connected to the fact that most corporate or startup consumers of UX services cannot distinguish the poseurs from the practitioners. In service to all the believers who don't have all the time in the world to grill their potential partners, I have made a list of red flags to watch out for.

Learning Opportunities

None of these items is sufficient in and of itself to fully qualify for the poseur moniker, but the presence of three or more makes it a pretty sure bet.

  1. They lead with design rather than research: Good UX practitioners, no matter what their specialties, know that good design begins with good research. Knowledge and empathy for target audiences and their use context is the surest way to lead to a product or service that is valued and adopted by that audience. It's much in the same way that you would know a carpenter was not for real if he did not use or value a tape measure. You can also tell a UX poseur when he is willing and able to jump into design based solely on stakeholder input.
  2. They blame users when their designs don't work:"That's a training problem" is the typical cry of UX poseur. This orientation flies directly in the face of perhaps the most foundational philosophy inside of UX. If a user is unable to complete a task, blame the design, not the user. The hope for better users shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the core business problem and the economic realities of a business. The job is to design for the users and customers that you have; not for the ones you wish you had.
  3. They look to content to address design flaws: Just after the "training" recommendation, comes the call for more instructional copy to be placed around interactions and forms that have inherent usability problems. More copy doesn’t make things better, it makes things worse. Any so-called UX professional who depends on users to read anything either has no real world experience or has never been around long enough to see how their designs actually work.
  4. They don’t know what content strategy is or what a content strategist does. Real UXers know that almost all of the elements of delivering a sustainable, good user experience flow from content strategy. Evaluating the mix of features to be delivered within a site or application is essentially a content strategy problem (even though it can be handled by UX strategists or experience designers). UX at its best, treats features and functionality as part of the overall content delivered by a site. When viewed this way, content and features are all part of the value story that ultimately answers the user’s question “Why am I here on your site and why should I come back?” Poseurs think interaction design and user experience design are the same thing and barely know that content strategy exists. Mildly aware poseurs who are aware that it exists, will only speak in terms of taxonomy and content attributes but will fail to understand the nuances of tone and voice and well as how the total of all content creates and supports an overall value proposition.
  5. Jakob Nielsen is their UX hero. Jakob Nielsen is the hero of usability testing, not of UX. Alan Cooper, Don Norman, Jesse James Garrett and Steve Krug are all well rounded UX design heroes. Experienced UX practitioners know that usability is only one facet that drives adoption of a site or app. Being usable is not the same as being useful. Being usable is not even close to being desirable or engaging. Real deal UX practitioners balance many different factors and place greater emphasis in varying ways depending upon the problems they are trying to solve and the context of how their designs will be used.
  6. They are exclusive in their approach to their craft. UX poseurs have a mental model of design as an activity to be done by “professional designers." Collaborating with technologists, business analysts or other “non-designers” is a waste of time that approaches being “beneath them”. Exclusivity and territorial behavior are not exclusive to the UX domain, but they are specifically ironic when they show up within UX projects given that UX is a discipline grounded in an understanding and respect of innate human drives like creativity and self expression.

Title image by Pablo Hidalgo (Shutterstock).