I was speaking to an entrepreneur the other day when he mentioned he was looking for a “creative director with UX skills.” He added,”…someone whose aesthetic I really like.” I responded ,”Good luck.”
I once sat next to a newly-diagnosed MS patient while walking him through an online description of the progression of that disease. It was devastating.
Another time I interviewed a long-suffering Psoriasis patient about her frustration with the lack of progress on treatment. It was infuriating.
I once sat next to a job seeker who had been unemployed for 2 weeks. He was invincible. And so was I.
Yet another time I sat next to a jobseeker who was unemployed for 6 months. He was desperate for communication – of any kind. So we talked.
Empathy is the true comprehension of what our customers, visitors and users feel when they reach out for our service. Without it, we’re designing blind.
Get out of your cube, office or co-working space. Go meet your customers. Ask them how they’re feeling. Understand them and they’ll know it. You’ll find them in your products and services.
“Can they draw straight lines?”
That’s what my boss asks me each time I meet a new UX Design candidate.
I’ve interviewed a lot of UX Designers over the past two years. Inevitably (and at my request in most cases) we end up going through some of their past deliverables. Whether it’s in a book or an online portfolio, a series of wireframes is typically shown along with some kind of flow diagram, perhaps an old spec or a use case template as well. What I’ve found from these hours of interviews is that, for UX Designers, an online portfolio is overrated and rarely useful.
Over and over again, it seems, practitioners within the User Experience world stir up flame wars and heated debates about what it is exactly that we do and what it should be called. From Interaction Design to User Experience Design to Information Architecture to UI Design, titles and job specifications vary as frequently as Sean Combs’ stage names.
Here’s a suggestion: stop trying to define the damn thing and, instead, design the damn thing.
Design it. Get your hands dirty. Make sketches, push pixels, build prototypes and create experiences. Just do it. Forget your title. Forget your job description. Focus on the business problem you’re solving. Then figure out what you’re best capable of doing that will lead to a successful solution for that problem. Work within your organizational constraints or break new ground. Regardless, solve the problem. Understand your user. Understand the business goals. Do the right research and apply that learning to the solution.
Instead of using titles and job specs to describe the value you bring, show it. If you spend your time designing the experience and solving problems instead of defining where your cog fits in the machine, your true value will become obvious. The more your value becomes obvious, the less the need for specific job titles and descriptions.
Pretty please, let’s stop defining the name, boundaries and specifications of our profession. Instead, let’s solve problems, innovate and simply design good experiences.
“What are you going to do this weekend?”
“I’m going to hang out in the Financial District with a bunch of folks from various disciplines and locations to discuss the intersection of Agile and User Experience.”
“All weekend? Um, that sounds like fun.”
As it turns out, it was a lot more than fun.
More than 20 people gathered this past weekend at Pivotal Labs’ temporary NYC offices to conduct the next installment of the Agile UX Retreat. With previous retreats taking place in San Francisco, Grad Rapids and an impromptu one in Orlando during Agile 2010, this one brought the ever-growing crew to New York. And I was fortunate enough to get an invitation.
In true agile, self-organizing fashion there was little up-front agenda presented. Instead the participants gathered together, provided their desired topics and discussions, the group voted and formed an agenda surprisingly fast. The first evening consisted of a night for newbies. Us first-timers were encouraged to get to know the returning participants, share a bit about ourselves and to start building relationships with the (instantly evident) tightly knit crew. Folks came in from San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, London, Brooklyn and Michigan (to name a few) emphasizing the dedication the participants had to pursuing the topic of Agile and User Experience. Friday night’s discussions focused on the tactical facilitated by a “fishbowl conversation.” This was a new facilitation technique for me and involved providing 4 chairs at the front of the room. Only 3 chairs can be filled at a time and the participants in the chair have a conversation with each other. A seed question is proposed and the conversation begins there. As other participants in the room feel the desire to join the conversation, they simply walk up and sit down. At this point someone from the panel has to step down. One chair must always stay empty.
In this way the conversation grows organically and weaves a meandering path through each participant’s viewpoints and topics of interest. We covered tactics, philosophies and the broader arena of organizational change. We got to know our fellow participants without the need of roles or titles – simply through their opinions and arguments. It was refreshing, engaging and rewarding.
Day two provided opportunities for discussions and talks. As before, topics were proposed, voted and prioritized. Some folks had prepared talks (like me), others simply had ideas they wanted to share and discuss. It was a long day filled with tactics, philosophies and theories about how to drive change through organizations from the bottom up as well as from the top down.
At the end of the second day we held a retrospective to see what went well, what went poorly and any outstanding questions. My main point of contention was the fact we had seemingly few points of contention. The constructive conflict that should drive folks struggling to rationalize new philosophies in existing structures and organizations was missing. In its place was a room full of nodding heads (and waving hands J ). I was concerned we were all preaching to choir and not doing enough to move the discussion forward. Interestingly, everyone agreed with my point that we were very much in agreement but many disagreed that this was a bad thing. Instead, several folks called this general agreement a sign that the group had become unified and could now begin pushing its message beyond the retreat’s boundaries.
Which led nicely into the third and final day’s discussion topic: getting the message out. But what exactly was the message? And who should we target with it? This was part of the third day’s conversation and the general consensus was that promoting organizational change to create cultures that support collaboration, conversation, fail early/fail fast product design philosophies should be a primary focus for the group. Proving, ultimately, that this approach delivers better products, faster, to happier customers resulting in engaged, invested employees who are trusted by their managers. And what better way to do this then to hold a conference? The room focused on early stage planning for such an event and I look forward to continued efforts to bring it to life next year.
I took away many things from the weekend, not the least of them were new friendships with folks I’ve admired for a long time. What surprised me the most though (and perhaps this is a little bit self-serving) was the group’s reaction to the work we’ve been doing at TheLadders in the Agile and UX space. We’ve been evolving and iterating our process for 2 years now and it’s easy to stay in our isolated world without the context of the broader software industry. This weekend (coupled with the other outreach efforts I’ve been involved in like Agile 2010 and Agile Day NYC) gave me that context and helped me see that TheLadders is at the forefront of a lot of this thinking. We’re trying new and better ways to make products – with great results! Perhaps most enlightening though was my realization that we’ve successfully created the culture that allows us to try these new methods without the fear of failure. We’ve created a culture of innovation. That became clear to me and if that was the only positive outcome of the weekend it still would’ve been worth it. Thankfully there was so much more and I look forward to the next convening of the Agile UX Retreat.
[Jeff]Many thanks to Ian McFarland, Anders Ramsay and Lane Halley for putting the weekend event together.