“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Enough UX Chumbaya!!!

This is my response to Andrew Hinton’s recent blog post. I was going to post it as a comment, but it really is MY thinking and it is rich enough that I feel it belongs here. Sorry Andrew, my experience is really changing my framing of who “we” are and whether or not there is a “we” at all.

So here’s how it came out of me!

What I said at IxD09 is what I’ll say now. The context of the conversation cannot be generalized. Talking generally about UX is an exercise in futility. The “umbrella” is made up as a social convention that I’m growingly starting to believe does not serve anyone at all. It is a crutch that we’ve created to hide from truths, and continue misinformation about what is we really do. We have allowed the origin of our communities to define, the terms we use regardless of their validity and then used the community as the basis to expand those definitions beyond utility.

A post like this is trying to solve the wrong problem. Andrew is a natural peacemaker, but I’m not sure you are asking the right questions, and I’m not sure you are serving the community that you feel closest to.

There is so much that separates IA/IxD/Usability/HCI/Graphic Design/Industrial Design, etc.

To this end, I don’t see the tent. If you look at the trends in education, and outside the web world of design, the very concept of UX is a blip on their radar. This reality alone challenges the notion of the tribe.

Now, let’s be clear. Separation is not the same as devaluing, or degrading. It is about creating clarity, which in turn will clarify so many different things that still in the UX world remain unnecessarily confused:
1) How do we get educated?
2) What is our career path?
3) What are the right methods of practice?

The reality is that once you move OUT of the web there is so much more that separates IA from IxD than keeps them together. Just look at the work from CIID & RCA/DI and compare to the work of any US IA program.

I find this chumbaya repetition to simply be counter productive at this time in our history. Revel in our differences, and lets stop denying them, couching them in friendlier terms, or otherwise try to make us just get along.

I said this to Louis Rosenfeld and I mean it today even more than then (during #ixd09). Different is not a value, just a description. It is not divisive, and does not mean that collaboration and cooperation cannot happen. A civil engineer and an architect are not the same thing, nor is a cariologist and a neurologist, or a carpenter and a cabinet maker.

Interaction Design is NOT Information Architecture. Stop the madness of trying to be everything to everyone!!

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  • http://sokohl.com Joe Sokohl

    I completely agree that IxD is NOT IA. Thanks god (smile to my German friends, btw).

    On the other hand, one person can do both information architecture and interaction design. A user experience designer can do user research, interaction design, information architecture, information design, and usability evaluation throughout the lifecycle of software projects (and let’s stop kidding ourselves already–the Web IS software).

    Oh, and did you mean “kumbaya”? I was confused.

  • http://crosswiredmind.com David Fiorito

    I agree that there is distinction and difference but as I posted in reply to Andrew – there is a big tent that we are all playing in AND we do draw from each of the disciplines in that tent and beyond.

  • dave

    @davidF my point was that UX is a made up term. Once you leave web & software, it really starts to disintegrate. Even in web & software I was arguing that it doesn’t serve us well as it creates false unity which IMHO has led us towards mediocrity.

    Yes, 1 person can downy things. An artist van paint & sculpt, and there are many shared attributes between them. But we know a sculpture from a painting even though we can call them both art.

    As for the spelling of “chumbaya” I have seen it spelled with a “k” and a “ch”.

  • Stew Dean

    As you know I strongly disagree.

    Information Architects only organise information in a very few specialist cases. The normal role of an Information Architect is to design an interactive system.

    Your view appears to be similar to some graphic designers who do interface interaction and feel that is experience design as opposed to others who see experience design more akin to the designing of an interactive system with functionality, flow, and information as the core and the visual design and front end code as delivery mechanisms.

    Information Architects have become User Experience Designers (especially folks who have had experience of a wide range of tasks like coding and visual design) because they have had to work to pull all aspects of the user experience together across the user centered design spectrum. They have had to fight to break down barriers to ensure that things are user focused.

    Often the role of Interactive Experience Design and Information Architecture ARE the same thing in the real world.

  • dave

    Stewart but you haven’t been listening to me for the last 10 years. I NEVER talk about Information Architects. I only talk about Information Architecture. OF COURSE! due to history and current contexts information architects have to do/know interaction design in order to design the systems they are assigned. And the opposite is true that interaction designers need to know fundamentals of Information architecture to do what they do.

    What really gets me, is that at this point people can’t make, or refuse to make the distinction. There are WHOLE segments of IA that barely need to know IxD and there are HUGE segments of IxD that really could care less about IA fundamentals. Ergo! they are separate!

    Just use what you need to use for YOUR! situation and stop treating this as a land grab situation. It isn’t. Really! I don’t like IA, and I want to be an IA, and I think IA is the most boring part of the total problem of interactive and non-interactive systems design. Does that mean, that YOU can’t love, cherish or otherwish fetishize IA the way I do about IxD. Of course not!!!! In fact, I NEED YOU TO!!!!! B/c there are HUGE parts of the problem set that ARE IA related and thus I’m going to need GREAT partners to either do or mentor me through those areas of the problem space when they occur for me. IT IS THAT simple.

    Stewar, what *I* was saying here was that I don’t like the concept of UX anymore. I feel it breaks down as we start getting into more eco-system design. Even UX as a term isn’t defined ubiquitously across organizations, further causing problems. So let’s throw it out and cherish the realities in the differences of the DISCIPLINES that we use as our tools for designing solutions.

  • http://jarango.com Jorge Arango

    Dave, with all due respect I disagree strongly with the POV you present in this post. However, I also have to admit to being disappointed; you present no strong arguments here, only strong opinions. For example, you say “There is so much that separates IA/IxD/Usability/HCI/Graphic Design/Industrial Design, etc.”, but you don’t mention anything that does. (I suspect this is because it would be as easy to draw up a similar list of things that join the disciplines.)

    As I see it, not only _can_ the context of the conversation be generalized, but there is a great deal of value in doing so. These disciplines have a great deal in common; you only need look at the number of IA-related questions come up in the IxDA mailing list, or the obvious overlap that exists between the communities of practitioners that attend IxD and IA events to realize that there is a “there” there. (Many of us, myself included, wear IxD hats and IA hats often in our day-to-day work. My IA work has been informed and enriched by my IxD work, and vice-versa.) Architects and civil engineers don’t have much in common, but architects and urban planners do. I suspect the differences between these disciplines are closer to the latter. But that is my opinion, as these are yours.

    You wrote, “Interaction Design is NOT Information Architecture.” You are right, but I don’t think anybody has suggested otherwise. The fact that you resort to framing the argument using this (tired) straw man makes me think that this end of the conversation has played itself out. I’d be keen on seeing a better crafted argument in favor of drawing up hard lines around these disciplines. As it stands, this post presents religion, not argument. I remain unconvinced.

  • dave

    I think @jorge you actually get it more than you think you don’t. I think you disagree with the contention, but actually agree with the point from what I can tell.

    There is nothing you said above that I disagree with, except your adherence to the concept that it is more important to explore our connections than our differences. To me it is more important to revel in our differences at this time in history because through our constant focus on similarities we have not been able to create the solid definitions we need to communicate our building blocks of our disciplines. Our fear for differentiation as a form of divisiveness for me is a form distraction.

    Differentiation should be seen as an opportunity and the unity should be seen as assumption. AT THIS TIME IN HISTORY.

    — dave

  • http://crosswiredmind.com David Fiorito

    I can understand the reticence to use the term “user experience”. Like all labels for abstract and shifting concepts it has its weak points. It may change, but right now I can’t think of a better label.

    I also think it can be extended beyond the web/software context and into all manner of interactions between human beings and the artifacts we create.

  • dave

    How about if I’m designing software (web included) we call it software design, if I’m designing hardware we call it hardware or device design & if it’s combined or intricate call it system design. User Experience isn’t really all that useful. If u r talking about philosophy or a collection of methods then UCD feels much more accurate. If you are talking about “Experience Design” as in “touchpoints” maybe “service design” works.

  • http://sokohl.com Joe Sokohl

    I think the difference, to me and in my experience, is that you can design software without user-centered (or people-centered or human-centered or whatever) considerations. it’s been done for a long, long time.

    The reason it’s nice to use the term “experience design” and to cast a wide net for skills is that, on most projects, you get only one such person, whatever it is. So that’s why the T-model approach to skills span is nice….someone who has a breadth of skills but maybe is really focused on IxD…but you still need that person to do some usability engineering, or perhaps come up with a menu system for the software, or apply an opinion on the visual design of the frame of the software.

    I’m thinking too of Terry Winograd’s “Bringing Design to Software” (1996). Amazingly, 13 years later, it still stands up a s quite valid and appropriate book. Seems to apply to this discussion, too.

  • http://sokohl.com Joe Sokohl

    FYI, here’s a link to the Winograd book info: http://hci.stanford.edu/bds/

  • dave

    Very familiar w/ the book. I use it to teach. But I’m not sure that your interpretation of it to create a new labeled called “UX” is really in there.

    Most importantly though, I’m glad the title is serving you well. Keep using it for your cultural battles that you seem to have. I think though that since Graphics, ixD, and ID are not limited to the software world where UX really resides/was born, holding onto it for these disciplines is not helpful, and in fact is negative.

    I still fall back on, do GOOD software design and that entails using the philosophy of UCD to guide your process. Calling it UX in any way is a distraction to really achieving that. Maybe I’ve just had some bad experiences, but I’m stickin’ to it. ;-)

  • http://crosswiredmind.com David Fiorito

    Some software is never used by human beings. Back end systems are often designed for use by machines.

    We need the notion of user experience to reflect the focus of our design efforts – it’s where the people meet our products.

  • http://www.robfay Rob Fay

    This all seems like a pissing contest that does not have a value, unless we are all trying to become “self actualized” as professionals. Frankly, I agree with both you and Andrew.

    Why does a discussion of similarities or differences need to be mutually exclusive? I have strengths and weaknesses as a professional in this “UX” landscape. If I don’t have one tool, I either get it or ask someone who has that skill for help.

    Perhaps the real discussion should focus on needed skills for the profession and knowing when it’s worthwhile to acquire them vs. asking someone for help.

    What we call ourselves isn’t important. If you look at our DNA, it might be similar to how Todd Zaki Warfel screates personas with “DNA” – http://toddwarfel.com/archives/persona-templates-v2/ That is, if you lay out all of the UX skills that a person can possess, we would all register at varying levels for each skill, regardless of what we call ourselves.

  • dave

    @rob I actually don’t disagree with your sentiment. I think for me, this isn’t about IA vs. IxD (or whatever) but it is about UX or is UX a fallen term. I’m leaning towards it the term of joining us together to be so irrelevant to my life and when it comes up it causes more problems then it is generally worth.

  • dave

    @daveF Really? I’m not feelin’ this one. I think that UX as a term for profession is “bleh” but UCD as a term for philosphy and methods totally works for me.
    — dave

  • http://www.robfay.com Rob Fay

    @daveIxD, technically it’s @robfay if you choose to follow ;)

    I don’t think UX as an “umbrella term” is fallen. Frankly, it’s an easy “elevator pitch” term to use with the outside (“real”) world. But, is your beef really with UX? Because your post seems to use IxD vs. IA as the issue…

    How about this metaphor: Someone in the culinary or food services industry may refer to themself as a “chef” but we know this is not an accurate term. It is an easy term to use when “talking to the outside world” but it does not fully articulate his or her skills. Is this person an executive chef, a sous chef, a station chef, a pastry chef, a pantry chef? One could even argue that a pastry chef works on an entirely different “product.”

    Now, do each of these roles have similar goals despite possessing different skills? Sure. Are some roles more skilled than another? Yes. Is one role more important than the other? It’s debatable. Can one person who wears one of these hats also wear another? Sure.

    Now although you’ll likely pick apart my metaphor, my simple point is to say, “So what?” Yes, there are both similarities and differences. That’s why we use “UX” to describe a whole cadre of “tools” that can be used. I think it becomes confusing when we intermingle the skill (i.e., interaction design) with the identity, or how we identify ourself to others (i.e., I am an interaction designer). It’s the label we place on ourselves that is too limiting, IMHO.

  • http://www.ifonlyconsulting.com Ian Franklin

    UX is a multi-disciplinary profession and therefore no one name will fit or should fit. UX should be seen as a group of people from different professions who are involved in what happens when human beings meet technology. I am from the UK and I have worked in usability for 20 years (started on green screen stuff); I have two professional accreditations as a chartered psychologist and as a Registered Ergonomist. My focus is in the people aspects.

    I don’t code, I have never done wireframes or designed icons, for me those are software engineer tasks. But I do know a huge amount about usability, testing, and user behaviour from the individual to the organisational and social/cultural. I know nothing about branding, in the UK there are chartered members of the institute of marketing who do that stuff. I have worked with users, run usability tests, done card sorts, project managed user centred design processes and helped develop international standards in user centred design. I have never done personnas or the user journey but I have done user requirements (ethnography) and user observation, I have defined users’ characteristics. I have never done the information architecture but I have done task analysis and applied psychology and GUI standards to interface design.

    The problem with our area is too many people are running around saying they can do all these things and web agencies ask for people who can do all these things. Most are amateurs who have been to a few workshops, read a few books and can code a bit. Very few are qualified professionals in a specific area e.g. applied psychology, marketing, software engineering etc. The result is that they are re-inventing methods, standards and processes

    I have had these people stare at me in disbelief with comments such as “you can’t have been in usability that long it all started with the web 2002”, “if you can’t do wireframes you are not a user centred designer” (oops I wrote the standards); “ergonomics is soooo last century”; ” you are just NOT in our space, usability is about facebook, twitter and branding – that’s the user journey”. “GUI standards do not apply to web, they are too old fashioned”. Again oops with rich internet applications GUI standards are very applicable. Also I have never worked in a web agency and I am not young, sexy or hip person who splashes my personal life on facebook.

    So as a middle-aged unemployed usability and user centred design expert who has faced these misconceptions, prejudices and requirements for the impossible individual (must do everything from user requirements, coding to usability testing and through life support with some branding thrown in) I do not believe in the UX Tribe.

    I DO believe in the need for highly qualified individuals from a range of disciplines working together. So fewer amateurs and more professionals are needed with a real understanding of the long history of usability (BW -before web) and the complexity that user centred design is and should be.


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