I’m Breaking Up with UX
Apr 17, 2014
UX, I’m breaking up with you. I still love you; I just need some space. I need to try out being independent for a while and see where things go. Honestly, I think I’m outgrowing our relationship, and you’re holding me back.
Yep. I’m breaking up with UX. Not my UX principles, but the UX label.
I hate to point out the same problem statement UXers have been talking about for years, but I’ll do it anyway in order to level-set: We just can’t quite agree on what UX is and what to call ourselves. In fact, we’ve let the topic consume a significant portion of our debates over the last few years—too much time and energy debating a name instead of accomplishing a goal.
That’s been fine and well with me for a while. Like a lot of people, I watched these debates and thought, “Why are we wasting our time with semantics? I do what I need to do in order to create the right outcome for the end customer, and I don’t care what I’m labeled along the way.” I thought what made me a UX professional was my belief in unrelenting advocacy for people as a necessary part of the design process, and that was good enough for me.
That was naive. I realize now that as a community, our lack of solidarity, our quick-to-attack attitude and our small-minded use-this-word-not-that-word obsession is detrimental to the field and its practitioners.
Instead of driving progress, we’ve only succeeded in marginalizing UX. We’ve let other professions like “service design” and “customer experience” run with our ideals and become understood as everything we wanted to be. We got left behind.
The work I do and my mindset about what UX means no longer aligns with the greater perception of UX. As much as we hem and haw amongst ourselves about what UX is, that greater perception remains reality to people who matter to me: employers, clients, and other professionals I respect. And I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s not going to change.
“UX” job descriptions requesting someone who can code, do some “here and there” graphic design, and oh, yeah, who is familiar with usability principles and/or “UX best practices” demonstrate the misalignment.
I can’t help but be offended for all UX professionals, visual designers, and developers at the same time by these descriptions. They express not only wide misunderstanding of our potential value, but also the assumption that none of these areas of a business are deserving of true, dedicated experts. One unicorn to cover all areas will suffice.
Sure, a good designer or a good programmer is familiar with UX principles. And a good UX professional is familiar with coding languages and graphic design principles. But these people are not interchangeable. And more importantly, I don’t want to be anyone’s effing unicorn. As long as “visual designer” and “developer” are interchangeable with “UX Designer,” I won’t call myself one.
Our attempted play to redefine the field as “UX Strategy” has been semi-successful. The description more accurately portrays the value of UXers in decision-making and pushes away from the typical limited connotation of UX as an execution-only role. But let’s be real: The perception issue isn’t going to be won with labels, as much as our focus on definition and titles seems to suggest we believe that it could be.
We seem to think that if we could just find that one perfect word, everyone would understand UX and accredit it the value it deserves. Sadly, that preoccupation with “defining the thing” takes focus away from our ability to promote our value and our work.
I’m abandoning both the search for distinction and inclusion and refocusing that energy on creating value. I won’t be marginalized along with UX, or allow a title to define my value. I’m going the route of Leisa Reichelt and adopting a new mind frame: “I’m done being a UXer. I will always be a UXer.” I will continue to follow the UX principles I’ve believed in and focus on outcomes, not what I’m called.
Right now, losing the UX label that I’ve held on to for so long seems to be a way to better position myself to be able to communicate, promote and act on the UX principles I value so much.