10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design

A couple months ago, the lovely Sharon Feder asked me if I would be interested in being a guest writer for Mashable. As I’m sure you can imagine, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been a fan of Mashable for a long, long time and kind of always hoped I’d get to write for them.

Initially Sharon asked if I would be interested in writing a piece on “X Ways to Improve Your Site’s User Experience.” My response was that “there’s no one-size-fits-all advice on UX.”

It occurred to me then that this is a common misconception I hear from a lot of prospective clients — as though there’s some kind of best practices cheat sheet that I pick and choose off of. It gets me riled up because it couldn’t be further from reality. I start every project with a blank slate, free from expectations, assumptions or recommendations. I think that that’s why I’m good at my job.

As an independent consultant, I encounter misunderstandings about my role as a user experience designer on a daily basis. But this has been the case for my whole career, even at two very different marketing agencies and most recently on an in-house design team.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the best use of this great opportunity to write for Mashable would be to debunk the myths once and for all. Sharon took a leap of faith and let me take a crack at it. The piece wasn’t going to be typical for Mashable, but she trusted me enough to give it a try.

Immediately freaked out by the huge challenge ahead of me, I turned to the people who inspire me the most to help me brainstorm. I sent Twitter DMs to 22 people with just one question, “What do you consider to be the biggest misconception about user experience design?” I was incredibly lucky that everyone responded within a day or two — and not just with one-line answers, but many sent page-long e-mails with their thoughts on the topic. I wanted to get their off-the-cuff responses without going into much detail on what I was writing or what I hoped the piece could become. What I received was an incredible collection of really candid, really impassioned replies. As each one came in, my heart swelled.

I felt like the article was already written for me, but weaving these magnificent quotes together was a far more arduous task that I had anticipated. My first draft was over 3,000 words. I showed it to Orian and Alex, who both said it was a great thought piece, but far too long for Mashable. I knew they were right, and so I slaved over it, trimming the quotes wherever I could, cutting out my own voice more often than not. It was painful to leave these nuggets of truth on the cutting room floor, but I realized that for the venue, as well as for the sake of clarity, it had to be done.

This piece has much greater significance than anything else I’ve ever written. It’s not that I expected one post on Mashable to actually make a difference in anyone’s lives. But I felt like it could have tremendous meaning to other UX practitioners who struggle to be understood, and for them I wanted to do it justice.

This morning Mashable published my article titled “10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design.”

The 10 things user experience design is NOT…

1. …user interface design
2. …a step in the process
3. …about technology
4. …just about usability
5. …just about the user
6. …expensive
7. …easy
8. …the role of one person or department
9. …a single discipline
10. …a choice

Read the article to get details on what each of these really mean.

It almost felt wrong to be listed as the sole author when so many incredible people provided the insights that were necessary to write it. A million thanks to Peter Merholz, Christian Crumlish, Dan Saffer, Liz Danzico, Dan Brown, Mario Bourque, Bill DeRouchey, Chris Fahey, David Malouf, Will Evans, Russ Unger, Steve Baty, Erin Malone, Livia Labate, Louis Rosenfeld, Jared Spool, Josh Porter and Kaleem Khan for their words. And a special acknowledgment to David Armano, Matt Milan, Keith Instone and Andrew Hinton who also contributed — unfortunately the piece was just too long and I couldn’t include everyone’s great quotes.

Ultimately I hope the article made people smile in recognition. I hope it gave people a jumping off point to start a conversation with their co-workers or clients. I hope it made people proud to be a user experience designer, and inspire others to work to become one.

The article received a lot of attention today. As of this writing, 33 people had commented on the post, and an incredible number of people were talking about it on Twitter. You can see Twitter searches for the article here here here and here.

Replies to me today on Twitter

On Google Blogsearch
On Delicious
On Digg
On Popurls:

On Tweetmeme:

I really look forward to hearing your thoughts, either in the comments of the Mashable post or right here. Thank you for letting me get this out.

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  1. Teramis says

    Hey, congratulations on your article! That's a nice milestone. I haven't it read it yet at Mashable but the list looks terrific and also thought-provoking for people with no UX experience. The last one made me smile: I am no longer doing systems work but I certainly recall contracts where the biggest point of friction was lack of buy-in on the client's part because they regarded usability and UX issues as options, not necessities. Argh. I look forward to reading the article.

    By the way, I wanted to introduce myself to you. I surfed here to your Bloglines v Google Reader comparison (I'm changing readers right now), and was impressed with your clarity of thought that came through in that post. That prompted me to read farther, and I've been even more impressed with your insights and your attitudes. I plugged you and your blog tonight in a mini-review at my own blog. You can view it here if you like: http://www.deborahteramischristian.com/life/new

    Good luck in your continuing adventures. I'm sure you'll hear more from me in the future, since I'm definitely going to be reading you on a regular basis. :)


    Deborah Teramis Christian
    (Novelist now; former systems analyst and consulting firm CEO)

  2. says

    I was going to comment directly on the Mashable site, but at 50-something comments, no one is going to scroll down that far to read what I've got to say, haha! :D

    Your article has certainly proved popular, and it's a wonderful way of clarifying exactly what User Experience Design is all about. I've bookmarked it for later reference.

    My only 'hang my head in shame' moment as I read through it, was that it also, indirectly, exposed a glaring problem for the Web Design industry too:

    All ten items expressed as being 'NOT' User Experience Design could easily have been used for Web Design as well! It is disappointing that no-one in the Web Design community is writing about it though.

    While User Experience Design can be applied to design for anything, the main goal of good Web Designers is (or at least, should be!) about the successful User Experience for web sites too.

    Curiously, the obstacles faced by User Experience Designers in conveying to potential clients exactly what it is that they do is very similar to the obstacles faced by good Web Designers. User Experience Design has existed far longer than Web Design, but User Experience Designers working on web projects only happens at all because Web Designers have dropped the ball: forgetting that they are ALSO supposed to design for the sake to the whole experience. In many ways, I wish some of the same passion and enthusiasm for User Experience Design was being demonstrated in the Web Design community too. Again, great article Whitney.

  3. says

    I'll keep it short…

    To be included among that list of contributors is nothing short of amazing for me. I certainly appreciate the fact that you considered my comments worthy of this piece and the cast of characters that are also associated with it.

    I loved the approach of “what it is not”. I think it was written in a clear way that individuals not in the user experience field can totally get.

    I hope there are many more articles to come. Job well done!

  4. megsutton says

    I enjoyed reading your article on Mashable, and it was very cool to see the behind-the-scenes post here!

    I'm a web designer who has started to focus more on user interface design and user experience. Your blog and the others you link to are great resources as I try to learn as much as I can.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

  5. says

    With the human brain continuing to thirst for more innovative ideas and captivating concepts, your article is simply right on the money. Very impressive. Kudos
    Kind regards

  6. says

    I have really learned some new things through your blog. One other thing I’d really like to say is always that newer laptop os’s often allow extra memory to be utilized, but they additionally demand more memory space simply to work. If one’s computer is unable to handle far more memory plus the newest program requires that memory space increase, it usually is the time to buy a new Personal computer. Thanks


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