Earlier this month, Fast Company began publishing a series on user experience written by industry analyst Brian Solis.
As soon as I read the first article, I reached out to Brian on Twitter to say that I thought it was crucial that he incorporate the perspectives of practicing user experience designers in order for his series to carry any weight. There has been a lot of pontification on UX by non-practitioners who often get the facts wrong and, though well-meaning, end up causing more harm than good. Brian has a rare opportunity to evangelize User Experience to the broader business community using the highly esteemed platform of Fast Company. It’s a big break that UX folks have been working towards for a long time.
Brian immediately responded that he wanted to do things right and only has the best of intentions. I appreciated his openness and willingness to hear me out. Since I was on my way to the airport for 9 days in Asia, we set up a time to chat a few weeks out.
The second article in the series was published last week, and I certainly never expected that I would be the focus of it — before we’d even had the chance to talk.
The piece is titled User Experience The Don Draper Way and it’s been making waves in the user experience community, not only for being a loose paraphrase of some of my work, but also for his fairly large misinterpretation of its underlying purpose.
Given that I’m the subject of the article and also somehow accidentally responsible for getting myself written about, I felt that it was necessary to formally respond here.
What Brian shared in great detail is the content of my presentation “Design Principles: The Philosophy of UX,” which I have been giving around the world since last May. What he deduced from it is that products should be designed with emotion in mind, and that businesses must take their customers’ feelings into account when creating online and offline experiences for them. This is very much the crux of my message.
However, a big misstep in my opinion is that Brian related emotional design to the creative process of fictional hero Don Draper of AMC’s Mad Men. The highly anticipated return of Mad Men is on March 25, and I too am one of many people with a history working in advertising who adore the characters, feel the nostalgia for times past, and recognize a lot of the drama from our own working environments. But let me make this very clear: Don Draper is the antithesis of user experience. Don Draper is public enemy no. 1 of the user experience community, and relating his approach to generating solutions for his clients to anything that user experience designers do is misguided and borderline offensive.
User Experience is about gaining insight on customers and prospects, and guiding the design of products and services based on direct input from those people on a regular basis. UX is NOT about getting people to do what companies just want them to do. UX is OPPOSITE of advertising. UX is about making things that people actually need, not trying to convince people that they should want them.
Don Draper’s work is self-expression, meaning it comes entirely from his own mind. He drinks a glass of whiskey, kicks his feet up on his desk, daydreams, and ends up with an epiphany of a “big idea” that’ll knock his clients’ socks off — delivering it with affect, poise, and his patented charm. The process of a user experience designer is NOTHING like this. We gather as much intel as we can possibly get our hands on, and we guide the companies we work with to empathize with the needs of their constituents. UX isn’t about expert intuition, it’s about expert listening. Don Draper doesn’t listen.
Brian is open to better understanding the perspectives of UX practitioners and I’m thankful that I get to help educate him on the complexities of our practice. But I have to admit it was a bit embarrassing to be the focus of an article that extolled the virtues of my work and then immediately cut them down with a poor analogy. I don’t believe it was intentional on Brian’s part, I just think that this stuff is way more subtle than most non-practitioners realize.
User experience design is incredibly hard work, and we’re all working our tails off day in and day out trying to help the business world understand where we’re coming from. We have a long way to go, but I know we’re going to get there. And it isn’t by demonizing industry thought leaders like Brian and his counterparts who are only trying to help us along the way.
I thank Brian for his devotion to the topic and I look forward to supporting his effort to better understand it, better share it, and ultimately create a better platform for all of us to stand on.
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