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Thoughts About "Lean UX: Getting Out Of The Deliverables Business"

. wandereye

What’s missing from this article is what “user experience” is and what a “user experience” person does? Even asking a “user experience architect” or a “user experience designer” will lead you to a bunch of answers, some stating that they are actually “information architects”… Having been at this for a while, seeing this title appear around 2000, and coming from a “human-centered” design program, my views on the matter probably venture into the “extreme” or “dogmatic” category, if not wholly untraditional. The basis of (good) “user experience” (in my humble soft-spoke opinion) is inquiry into what the actual “user’s experience” is. The tools that a user experience “architect” or “designer” have at their disposal are employed towards learning about stuff like “context” and “content” and “end use goals”. I’ve found in my work that focusing on the humans that both make and use a product leads to great insights into the design process in and of itself.

Much too often the trouble with user experience is not the types of deliverables or the tools or methods but where and when and how user experience is employed in the process. There is a huge misconception in the industry, highlighted by this article (“and its siblings, interaction design, UI design, et al”), that user experience “evolves” from UI design etc. Strategy is a large part of user experience. Systems and framework design are key to user experience at a high level. Many of the “user experience architects” I worked and work with have never done UI design but are experts in stuff like sociology or cognitive psychology or electrical engineering…

Much of the time, user experience is “guided” by (being political here) by people who seldom, if ever, think about the user (i.e. customer), are reacting to directives within an organization or business sources from a myriad of origins, usually at the top of a power structure… Much of the user experience I see employed at the “wireframe” level is simply an extension of “product requirements documentation”, a functional map or visualization of interface patterns sourced from existing libraries to meet a set of business goals and a tight deadline constrained by the limitations of legacy backends and scaleless middlewear and/or lack of comfort with new interaction patterns and content management systems/understanding of the importance of metadata on the web.

Wireframes, in the age of “dynamic media”, are self-defeating… they are static and two-dimensional representations of “states” based on the assumptions of the “modes” a user/customer is in. Rarely do user experience people spend time doing primary or contextual field research, if not self-exploration and observation to understand behavior within context or life outside the seven degree peripheral field focus (a monitor, a cell phone screen, an iPad). It’s ironic to note this when most value comes from truly understanding design contexts and the users who employ designed stuff to get stuff done or have experiences with.

“What’s most important to recognize here is that Lean UX is focused strictly on the design phase of the software development process. Whatever your organization’s chosen methodology (waterfall, Agile, etc.), these concepts can be applied to your design tasks.”

Focusing on the design phase gets you farther from the source of why you’re doing the design in the first place. Why not start by focusing on the user needs and the contexts of those needs? Design solves problems. If you don’t know the nature of the problems, employing a solution to the unknown is a crap shoot. User research includes internal and external users. I hear all the time blabber about “agile” and “process” but the truth and reality in the industry is that the process and structures are the most inflexible parts of the experience of designing for a user when they should be the most flexible parts.

Concluding, some of the best “user experience” deliverables I have seen have been ways of changing how people look at or approach a design process in and of itself. Not adapting to meet some mis or un-informed version of what “role” a user experience person plays in an assembly line called “agile”.

This reminds me of a recent facebook thread I had with some admired colleagues about the state of UX:

Joseph Dombroski: Every day, I'm feeling more like you did back in 2007. Living in the future is difficult, Michael. I'm starting to understand exactly why.

Michael David Simborg: You lived in this world with me and together we tired to change it. Sad thing is that the future I was living in was really the past that wasn't catching up to the now, which felt like the future to various people who, unfortunately, lacked the ability to absorb and apply or even self-reflect.

John William Ostler: this is the conversation I've been waiting for.

Joseph Dombroski: In other words, I'm delusional. Great.

Joseph Dombroski: On re-reading your reply with "the future" as a euphemism, I don't feel as bad about myself. In my original message, I was giving you a compliment and giving myself a warning. In any event, it was subtle.

Michael David Simborg: We're BOTH delusional in the sense that we listen to the rhetoric and think it's not laden with parenthesis. I've been finding great value in tuning into them more than the talk, which is expensive.

Joseph Dombroski: I keep re-reading your original reply, and it's perfect. It's got a nice rhythm, diction, even the Freudian slip was a nice touch ('tired' = 'tried').

Michael David Simborg: It is tiring but remember this (I am projecting): confusion is the first step towards revelation. It's when I reach the peaks of frustration that the breakthroughs come. Maybe this is the next level.

Areos Ledesma: Not sure how much the price of admission was but like John said... this could be epic.

Michael David Simborg: http://uxmag.com/short-news/an-animated-tribute-to-ux-design

John William Ostler: Your problem isn't the envelop. Your problem is the way you market it. The architect used the miniature. The executive used the keynote. What will the UX professional use? The wireframe? Try again.

Joseph Dombroski: Here it comes again, John's condescension: "You know what you neeeeeed..." Wireframes, like most of agency life, are symptoms of bureaucracy and incompetence. I resent the notion that I am a UX designer. I am not. It is a mask I wear while rent-seeking, just like an investment banker, a TSA employee, a priest, or an SEO charlatan. The problem isn't that UX is ridiculous and unethical—it's that we're all smart enough to know it. Are you familiar with Plato's Allegory of the Cave? Michael and I are like the philosopher kings who have abdicated their mantles, who return almost willingly and almost quietly to gaze again at the shadows on the wall. But hope comes yet: I am bored, restless again. I wonder what's going on outside the cave, my workplace, my Crate & Barrel catalogue apartment. I tire easily of living in a Magnus-Mills-like Scheme for Full Employment. I am Joseph's complete lack of surprise. I am wasting my life, and I know it. What greater luxury could exist? What a performance!

Joseph Dombroski: In any event, you all know my original post was not directly related to UX and certainly not related to **, right? I was speaking more generally about Michael's amazing ability to synthesize huge amounts of information from web sites, magazines, conversations, daily observations, etc. into a vision of the adjacent possible, the near future. I beguile myself by thinking I have stumbled upon a similar sense of things.

Michael David Simborg: Thanks Joseph! Coming from you... But that's the point about the Cave - UX is INQUIRY and the artifacts like wireframes (suck ass) are a capitulation for validation and accreditation. User experience is an already obsolete industry when it is defined because you can't limit the human experience and experience is dynamic, drawing from everything experienced. Hence UX is a PROCESS that is part of an overall endeavor and not limited to web design (which is a walking dead industry)... Its been an inherent wnt vital practice in stuff lile industrial design or medicine or photography... Anyone with a brain or who has been at this since the web hit mainstream knows that it's future is very different than it's inception. To survive you have to have the ability to learn, absorb and apply, to be present. Otherwise you postpone inevitable extinction via obsolescence. Nathan shedroff opened the door with his book experience design which was radical to common practice in the sense that it spoke to a need for empathy. Richard Saul wurman coined information architects... Responding for a need to simplify complexity in an overwhelming world of increased access to information in new formats and contexts and channels... But in J's line... UX is like going to whole foods - it's expensive but it serves the narcissistic and self-righteous need for self validation of appearing like someone who cares about anything beyond your own personal agendas...


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