UX design has a dirty secret

There’s a unusual phenomenon on the planet of person expertise design.

It occurs when designers are requested to fake to do the work of design and aren’t truly permitted to do the work of design. It occurs after we are requested to conduct analysis that by no means will get used. Once we ship findings that get shelved as a result of they don’t align with govt or shareholder expectations. Once we’re requested to facilitate workshops through which employees fake to be customers as a result of it’s cheaper and quicker than doing analysis with precise customers. Or after we solely get to evaluation the design when the product is about to hit the road, and it’s a lot too late for any precise design enhancements.

This irritating actuality is an open secret inside the person expertise trade and one we now have lengthy accepted as a regular consequence of working in a area that balances creativity and analysis.


We name this UX Theatre.

UX Theatre is straightforward to identify: It’s the appliance of any kind of design methodology with out together with a single person within the course of, or together with customers however merely for present.

Now, let me reassure you that it’s truly a nice time to be a person expertise designer. The phrases “person expertise,” “UX,” and “user-centered design” have turn into staples of company vocabulary. And all over the place you look, user-centered design is being held up as a important success issue within the improvement and supply of services that meet the wants of goal audiences.

However once you dig past the floor of the various tasks touting themselves as beacons of user-centricity, it appears there are virtually extra tasks branding themselves as user-centered design than there are tasks which might be truly user-centered design.

Once you get previous the rhetoric and the post-its, you can begin to see that there’s little or no “person” within the person expertise. It’s all lip service: Everyone seems to be role-playing the a part of the person, and the necessities are make-believe. And the ensuing experiences are troublesome to make use of, costing customers time, cash, privateness, and even security.

You is likely to be prepared to forgive a small upstart firm for not having the money and time to conduct person analysis. Nevertheless it’s much less forgivable when a massive firm, and even a authorities division, invests massive sums with out involving customers.

So how does UX Theatre occur? I imagine it’s the results of two elementary issues in our apply.


First, person expertise design is a imprecise idea and isn’t as nicely outlined as one thing like accounting or regulation. When executives undertake the time period “person expertise,” their groups aren’t essentially empowered to do all of the work that person expertise design entails. Designers discover themselves on understaffed, or wrongly staffed, or underfunded groups. Or worse, working as a staff of 1 (the solitary “UX unicorn.”) Budgets and schedules are cited as excuses to fast-track design and person analysis. From the skin, these organizations may seem like a shining instance of user-centricity; however on the within, extra effort is spent on telling a user-centered story than on producing user-centered outcomes.

Amongst designers, we’re continually debating what we do and the way we do it. On any day, you can find all types of tweets and Medium articles about design methodologies, instruments, and the perennial “Should designers code?” dialogue. To not point out: “What is UX design?” Usually, there may be settlement that person expertise design is the method of defining the interplay that your meant viewers can have along with your services or products. Any try and additional outline the scope of our apply devolves into debates over whether or not that features product design, digital design, interplay design, service design, and so forth.

The battle to outline our apply clearly amongst ourselves, not to mention clarify it to non-practitioners, can truly hinder our means to combine person expertise design deeply into the workings of our organizations.

This confusion over the breadth and scope of person expertise design may be seen within the misapplication of ideas and methodologies like Design Thinking. Design Pondering was developed as a consulting software to assist administration take a extra deliberate strategy in innovating on new companies and merchandise. The mannequin consists of 5 steps: Empathize, Outline, Ideate, Prototype, Check. At face worth, this looks like a strong strategy, nevertheless Design Pondering is commonly adopted as a substitute for actual user-centered design, with actions being led internally and with out customers, in the end leading to UX Theatre.

The second difficulty that results in UX Theatre is that design is touted as one thing everybody can do. In Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Victor Papanek wrote, “All males are designers. All that we do, virtually on a regular basis, is design, for design is primary to all human exercise.” This sentiment was meant to convey that people all have the power to suppose in a designerly means and that design is an inherently human exercise.

Nevertheless, simply because everybody can do math doesn’t imply everyone seems to be an accountant.

When organizations undertake the attitude that “everyone seems to be a designer,” person expertise design is much less acknowledged as a apply led by expert practitioners and perceived extra as a thought course of that anybody can undertake and implement. Executives appear to misread user-centered design as a euphemism for “considering from the person’s perspective.” They don’t fund person analysis or present challenge homeowners the latitude to create groups that embody the right combination of person expertise practitioners.

The design course of does profit from the contributions of customers and non-designers. In reality, everybody can and should participate in design. However the course of must be led by design practitioners, who’ve expertise in analysis, facilitation, techniques considering, prototyping, info structure, writing, and visible communication. They’re skilled to design experiences that really put customers first, which reduces the chance of UX Theatre.

Organizations that don’t perceive design, and make investments minimally in it, are likely to generate poor design outputs and outcomes. The top outcomes don’t meet person wants, which generates complaints, returns, poor evaluations, and even lowered earnings. As a end result, they might additional devalue person expertise design because it didn’t generate the meant outcomes. On this case, unhealthy UX begets no UX. It’s a harmful cycle.

If the foundation causes of UX Theatre are so broad, what can particular person designers do to forestall it?

Stopping UX Theatre requires person expertise designers to do greater than design. As a result of our apply is nascent and we’re nonetheless within the educating part, designers usually have to evangelize for user experience design of their organizations. We have now to advocate for the wants of customers throughout the design and supply course of. After which we now have to advocate for the very existence and funding of design groups in our organizations.


Very like design, design advocacy requires empathy and collaboration. We may also help our organizations enhance if we strategy UX Theatre from the attitude of critique as an alternative of criticism. We are able to name out UX Theatre. We are able to present how testing and analysis assist us design options to buyer issues, and even anticipate potential issues with new services. We are able to broadly share analysis outcomes to strengthen the usage of knowledge over opinions in design-related selections. We are able to encourage the transfer from “we predict” to “we noticed” and “we heard.”

We are able to mentor upwards and construct design champions among the many executives. We are able to get excited that they’re interested by person expertise design even when they don’t fairly perceive it, and we will use their curiosity as a possibility to indicate them what it actually entails. We are able to share tales about doing design the suitable means.

Designers don’t all the time have a say in how tasks are structured or run. And we might get pissed off, making small inroads solely to seek out ourselves doing UX Theatre as soon as once more. UX Theatre is an open secret inside the person expertise trade, however it doesn’t should be. So long as we will hold the “person” within the person expertise.

Tanya Snook is a person expertise designer within the Authorities of Canada. Tanya is a founder and cochair of CanUX, Canada’s longest-running person expertise convention. She can be the cohost of the Authorities of Canada UX Community. Yow will discover Tanya on-line at spydergrrl.com.