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Fresh energy and the reality of the design process

What we mean when we say “meet them where they are”

When we start out in User Experience (UX), a world is opened to us… we emerge idealistic and full of enthusiasm. This is great — it’s the kind of energy that sparks creativity and innovation all around us. Then something happens. You don’t have to be in a super-corporate workplace to encounter people do don’t understand the value of design — the same way you do.

If you feel like a resource, miss-understood, demoralized by the instructions to “just make it look pretty” — you are not alone. Practically, you are not getting the support you need to practice the methods you know to be effective. Things like interviewing real users, workshopping ideas, experimenting, and usability testing. You might feel like you spend more time advocating for a real UX process than you spend doing the actual work.

The reality #

We grow as UX professionals and learn a few additional skills; learning how to sell the business value of design turns out to be a really big part of the job. I would argue that it is the biggest part of the job. The work of design and UX is not art and it’s not magic. There is a process to do great work and you need to bring everyone along. This is commonly called co-creation. It emphasizes collaboration with others and guiding a group through a sustainable design process.

Don’t make it for them, make it with them.
This is probably a David Kelly quote

The implications of this approach are clear. It’s that whole go-fast alone, go-far together thing. We just need to take advantage of human nature. When everyone is involved from the beginning they will aligned as a group. You get trust amongst team members and diverse viewpoints are valued.

Frequently these methodologies and ways of working are new to our team members, stakeholders, and clients. In particular, the kinds of activities that we do in a discovery workshop or design thinking session can be strange and new to people (pro tip: don’t call it a workshop or design thinking, just call it a meeting and do the thing). People are resistant to things that are new or that might threaten their values.

So, what to do about it? #

As a humble designer, you must meet them where they are. You know everything that needs to be done. You know you need to talk to real users. You know you should test your products before shipping to production. Yet that product owner or development lead just wants some wireframes. Maybe they want a customer journey map that is totally based on assumptions. Give it to them.

You should not be precious about the work. Part of getting a seat at the table is being a team player. Under a tight timeline, tell them what you can do for them and deliver. Do it with a smile on your face. Be that benevolent designer that is there to help others solve problems. Do it with buddha-like mindset. They need something done in less than 2-weeks? Maybe they need something done in 1-day? Tell them what can be done, and do it for them.

Then you get back to work. That product team or development partner now has what they need to get started. Yes, I said get started. That deadline they gave you was fake and you knew it. They now have a whole lot of work to to to architect systems, bust bureaucracy, and just deal with a whole lot of other stuff you don’t know about. While that is happening, often for weeks, you have time to do that real design process we were talking about. When that product owner needs a break from dealing with a mountain regulatory issues – show them the customer insights you were able to put together. Share the concept testing you conducted with a group of employees. And surprise, you usability tested several of your industry competitors (they all performed terribly and you have a new idea to stand out in the marketplace). This is a mindset you can use to be healthy and happy in your career.

This work is really all about facilitation. It is the future of our UX field. If you are doing this right they won't even know exactly what was happening to them. Not judo or a jedi mind trick. Just a complete design process.

If you would like to go deeper, I’ll share a few links to learn more about facilitation and influence. As I remember more resources I’ll be sure to add them.

Go deeper #


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