I haven’t worked for a massive company in a long time. And now it’s embarrassing to say this, but I don’t understand the job titles in large design companies and I often don’t understand how roles and responsibilities are segmented.
I’ve been titled ‘creative director’ in my last few roles, and as such I’ve worked with close knit teams where responsibilities are shared, often undertaken by the best person in the team for the job. Looking back, I’ve been exceptionally lucky. It’s allowed me to follow my interests (brand building and copywriting for MOO, for example) and it’s allowed me to share roles amongst my team that I think they might find interesting or challenging.
I’ve been thinking about UX for a long time. User experience. I keep asking people what it is. No one seems to want to tell me. ‘Am I a UX person, do you think?’ Blank looks.
If I got a job in UX, what would I do? More blank looks. ‘Wireframes..?’
Right. I must admit I thought it would be a bit more varied than that. It doesn’t sound very… ‘experiency’. I’ve got 5 senses and a whole lot of emotions, I sort of thought an ‘experience’ might engage more than one.
But I’m not trying to be difficult, I am actually trying to understand.
So after a bit of discussion with a good friend and bit of google-time I did some proper digging this weekend and came across various pieces around the subject by Peter Merholz. He writes as clearly about UX as anyone I’ve come across, and I thought this was interesting (emphasis is mine):
"Perhaps the single most important responsibility for the UX Designer is to develop a clear experience strategy, and craft a compelling vision. An experience strategy specifies how a product or service will be successful from the perspective of user experience. A common part of experience strategy are design principles that help drive decision making.
Essential to helping a team understand how to realize an experience strategy is the creation of an experience vision. An experience vision provides a ‘north star’ for the product development team, helping them understand where they’re heading, and inspiring them to get there.”
That sounds good to me. His 2012 talk UX is Strategy, Not Design also helps to clarify things. It’s not just wireframes. There’s a lot more to it and it’s explained well in the talk.
Cindy Chastain covers similar ground here, in her talk The UX Professional as Business Consultant.
So UX is more strategy than design.
Wait though. I just remembered something.
This is from Wally Ollins, The Brand Handbook, again, emphasis is mine.
"Branding has become a significant mainstream management activity. It can be, although it isn’t always a complex, multi-faceted and multi disciplinary process. It can be consecutively — or more frequently, simultaneously — a marketing resource, a design resource, a communications resource and a behavioural resource. All this makes it pretty hard to pin down but branding activity is generally associated with a few simple rules. These are that branding
- is a design, marketing, communication and human resources tool
- should influence every part of the organisation and every audience of the organisation all the time
- is a co-ordinating resource because it makes the corporations activities coherent
- above all makes the strategy of the organisation visible and palpable for all audiences to see.”
There are huge overlaps here… Aren’t there? So, did branding companies really get strategy so wrong with digital that UX needed to invent itself? Or have we, in the digital industry just refused to engage with the brands for which we’re building products and created a profession to help remind ourselves?
"During the technological boom of the last 20 years, with the emergence of the Web, prevalence of computers in all aspects of our lives, and the increasing complexity of the things we are building, “user experience” has been a helpful term in that it continually reminded us to think beyond whatever narrow thing we’re considering at the time, and to consider the entire user’s experience."
What’s going on?
I’ve read the Cluetrain Manifesto of course, I know that advertising got it wrong for brands when digital came along. I know it’s taken design forever to catch up with usable digital. But if UX is more about strategy and less about deliverables in a hands-on design sense, I find the overlap fascinating.
Peter also says:
"I suspect the phrase “user experience design” is no longer necessary, and could even be harmful. Harmful because it suggests that the only folks who need to worry about user experience are the designers, when in fact companies need to treat user experience no different than they treat profitability, or corporate culture, or innovation, or anything else that’s essential for it’s ongoing success. The companies that succeed best in delivering great experience are those that have it as an organization-wide mindset."
Ok, well I do understand that bit - and that does make sense.
Thanks for sticking with it, if you got this far.
Believe it or not, I’m not trying to cause controversy (I’d need readers for that ;-) ) but just trying to understand the evolution of a profession - or two professions, in fact.
Edited to add, Toby Barnes has created a discussion on branch for this. Feel free to join in over there.
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- vickyteinaki answered: Hmm, I would leave a comment on Branch, but even when logged in I can’t seem to add to it!
- tobybarnes answered: There appears to be a couple of other strange things at play at some of the large places, ours included - and that’s balancing “levels”
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- benbrown said: I have struggled the same way with UX as a separate discipline.
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