User experience is not a UX designer exclusive
UX design and other buzzwords that tell of a more complex world
By Niccolò Maria Menozzi
There are a lot of elements of user experience that go beyond the scope of UX design in a strict sense and expand to other professional roles. We are going to discuss how all-encompassing the concept of UX is and how the title of UX designer actually hides a collective effort.
I recently found a couple of very interesting articles on Linkedin on user experience which encouraged me to intervene and spread the word.
One of these articles was There’s something wrong with the User Experience Designer title by Flavio Lamenza. To summarise his thoughts we could ask ourselves: can we really speak of a UX designer? Who bears the responsibility for a good user experience? Can you measure the value of it? Let’s try and summarise the main points.
The origins of UX
The term “user experience” was coined by Don Norman, a cognitive science expert, around the time he joined Apple in 1995. He wanted to extend his field of study beyond human interface and useability to many other aspects of people’s experience in the interaction with a complex system such as a company infrastructure to support a product or service.
As pointed out by Lamenza, since 2004 Google trends has seen a rapid decline in the web designer query and the slow but steady increase of UX designers. The job market is changing, indeed after the early years of the Internet, UX and the best practices that relate to it have started to substitute or coexist with the previous design practices, having emerged from cutting-edge contexts such as Norman’s.
During this process, which is still evolving (sometimes tainted by company marketing that wishes to latch on to the latest trend) the “UX design” buzzword has come to stand for many things, becoming rather a blurred concept.
UX is a group effort and there is no single responsibility
Starting from the definition of UX design offered by the Interaction Design Foundation, Lamenza reached the rather disorienting conclusion that basically UX design is “everything”.
According to the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) user experience “encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products”. This is evidently in a wide sense with many shades that include marketing strategies, tone of voice, online and physical sales channels and can deal with pleasure, effectiveness, fun etc.
Some time ago we also tried to offer some answers with our Overview of user experience, but it doesn’t seem easy to reach a conclusion, to the point that the Interaction Design Foundation concludes that “there is no single definition of a good user experience.”
UI designers, frontend and backend developers, marketers, social media managers, all of these categories add a piece to the puzzle and make decisions that impact people’s global perception.
Such a wide range begs the question of who is responsible for a good UX and what criteria can be used to measure its success. Indeed, according to the NNG, since UX is a complex concept, it does not coincide with the concept of usability, which instead can be measured with precise parameters.
In Lamenza’s opinion, this dilemma is particularly evident for those who work in large companies with various specialised professional profiles in specific sectors and a very evident hierarchical structure. Each team contributes to the general business, but then each one answers separately to their own department with separate KPI’s.
Who do all these people report to before leaving the office? Certainly not the UX designer. So who is the one responsible for this “hive mind?”
It’s not an easy question to answer.
Paraphrasing Scott Kiekbusch, we can say that user experience is a collective effort and the responsibility for its success is shared on many different company levels. If this is the case, the UX designer does not have the exclusive on the user experience, so what is left behind the label?
“There’s something wrong with the User Experience Designer title”
Lamenza identifies enough shades to clearly prove the fundamental error in this title. A product designer, copywriter, UI designer and many other professions have very clear operative definitions, but the holistic multidisciplinary approach that arises from these considerations does not quite fit under the single umbrella of UX designer.
In this sense the title can apply to all of us in varying degrees. Like the musicians in an orchestra we create a single melody that can become perfect only when the parts work skillfully and responsibly.
Daniel Burka claims that “people outside of your design team are making significant design choices that affect your customers in important ways. They are designing your product. They are designers.”
Thinking of UX as problem solving
How many professional profiles and skills can you find behind certain buzzwords? Having faced varying challenges that can all be referred to the UX field in general terms (UI design, usability testing, feedback surveys, copywriting, branding, social media management…), I sometimes wonder how far the boundaries of our core business in Dreamonkey extend with reference to what we do for the company and try to do for our clients.
I often define myself as a UX designer for the sake of simplicity, but I realise that the statement has its limits because it is the projects that define me each time. It can be confusing, especially because the clients deal with different dynamics and challenges and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Burka’s words remind me of Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction:
I’m Mr. Wolf, I solve problems. Indeed that is exactly what we strive to do and a good way to think about UX, regardless of the method.
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