by Kim Bieler
UX folks can’t get enough of workshops. Whenever we get asked what kind of sessions we want at conferences, we always answer “Workshops!” and “Hands-on activities!” Why? Because of the sad fact that a lot of us don’t get to do much beyond wireframes.
Notice what I said in that last paragraph: “…a lot of us don’t get to do much…”. That’s what we tell ourselves, but I don’t believe it’s true. I believe we are the ones holding ourselves back—not our penny-pinching clients who won’t pay for usability testing or our clueless managers who think personas are a waste of time.
It’s easy to blame others and give them unflattering motives; much easier than taking a hard look at our own behavior and asking, “What’s really standing in my way?”
Are you waiting for permission?
A lot of us ask for permission to do UX and then take no for an answer.
“We put a persona development workshop in our proposal, but of course the client asked us to take it out.” Or: “I tried to talk my manager into letting me do usability testing on this project and she said, ‘maybe next time’.”
You’re going to have to go out there and get proof first.
People need proof before they understand the value of something. Which means the time to ask for resources is after you’ve proven that UX works, not before. You’re going to have to go out there and get proof first—whether that means doing work for free or on your own time, or with surrogates instead of real users, or in a quiet corner of the project that no one’s paying attention to. Do whatever it takes to get results first, then turn those results into paying work or more resources from your company.
Think of it this way: If you’re asking for permission to do a card sort but you’ve never done one before, how equipped do you think you are to make a convincing case for why card sorting will solve this particular problem? How confident will you sound when you get a lot of skeptical questions from your boss? Not very, because you don’t really believe in it yourself. It’s just theory until you experience it first-hand. And unfortunately, book learning and conference wisdom are not adequate substitutes for personal experience.
The funny thing is, once you feel confident about your experience, you’ll stop asking altogether. Instead, you’ll find yourself saying, “this is what I’m going to do,” and no one will argue.
Are you hung up on doing “real UX”?
If you attend conferences and read blogs, you’re only seeing the good stuff: the successful projects that had the biggest budgets or the most engaged stakeholders. If that’s your only view into other people’s work, then you’re getting a very skewed impression of the world.
The fact is, almost everyone in this profession is just like you—struggling to get resources and to push UX further up the food chain, and feeling like few people at work understand what you do or why it’s valuable. Most of us are practicing only a small subset of the UX toolbox—and everyone seems convinced that whatever they’re doing isn’t “real” UX, because it’s not as comprehensive or robust as what they imagine others are doing.
Is it real UX if you can only interview the sales team for your personas?
Is it real UX if you only did the card sort with 3 people instead of 10, and one of them was your mother?
Of course that’s real UX! UX isn’t a number or a rigid set of tasks—it’s the process you go through to identify, explore, and solve the problem.
Stop apologizing for your work and feeling like it doesn’t count. Be proud of whatever you’ve been able to accomplish and keep pushing to do more.
Are you uncomfortable when you don’t have the answers?
The beginning of a new project is always awkward. The clients and stakeholders are impatient to see the solution but you’re still at the stage where you don’t understand the problem or perhaps even the subject matter. In meetings, people look at you as if they’re expecting the design solution to spring from your head magically, with no forethought. It’s hard to say “I don’t know yet,” when you feel like your job is to know. Even seasoned UX designers have to force themselves to slow down at this stage and not give in to the urge to design.
What you really want to do is to get all the stakeholders in a room and do a brainstorming and prioritization exercise. But what if nobody comes? Or what if one or two low-level people come, not the CEO and marketing director you really need?
And let’s say you are able to organize the workshop and now you’re standing in front of the room trying to get a bunch of suspicious executives to stand up and write things on post-it notes, and you can’t see yet where it’s going or how this is going to lead to useful insights.
This part of the process is fraught with ambiguity. Always. It’s awkward and scary and you never know what you’re going to get out of it. After all, if you already knew, you’d just design that; you wouldn’t go through all the trouble of work-shopping. It’s not uncommon to feel a lot of anxiety about not knowing and not having answers, particularly if you are used to feeling confident and in control.
All I can tell you is this: trust the process. It has never let me down and it won’t let you down. Acknowledge your fear and anxieties and push through, because the rewards are great.
About the Author
Kim Bieler is an interaction and visual designer who specializes in dense, data-heavy technical websites and applications. She ran her own consulting business, Apt Media, for 13 years and is currently UX manager at Mandiant, a leading information security company. She writes a blog, “The Pragmatic Designer,” at www.kimbieler.com.