Sep 16

Co-founder of Obox Themes. Designer. Racing driver when I have time. Crazy about cars. Love tech. WordPress is my bread and butter.

You Are NOT a User Experience Designer

There is a fundamental misunderstanding amongst designers when they enthusiastically tell you that they're a User Experience designer.

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When I used to train for motor racing, I’d always exercise and practice as if I was a sprinter. Being a sprinter requires you to be incredibly fit, fast and explosive. Every morning at 6am I’d get up to meet my trainer and start the process of weight lifting, running with parachutes, the whole deal. It was fun and I got fit, I got strong and I got fast.

Not once did I compete in an event. Not once did I call myself a sprinter. I merely tried to be a sprinter but training like one did not make me one.

Recently I traveled to New York to attend a WordCamp conference, and being a passionate designer I stuck to the design track. Almost every talk had an element of user experience design in it so I was intrigued to hear what the pro’s had to share.

During each talk I made a point during the Q&A’s to ask if the speaker had in fact done user testing and the answer I got from everyone was… “No.”

These days, it’s difficult to find a designer who doesn’t have the words “User Experience” in their title. They’re on Dribbble, they’re on Twitter, they’re at talks, they’re everywhere and yet in 10 years I have only met three people who I actually consider to be genuine UX designers. They are Jeffrey Zeldman, Dana Chisnell and Rian van der Merwe.

Just the other day I was in a presentation where three designers in the room described themselves as User Experience Designers and not one has done a single UX experiment.

There is such a massive difference between creating interfaces which look beautiful, and creating interfaces which your target market can/will actually use. The former involves pushing pixels requiring little experience, whereas the latter involves a deep understanding of what will and won’t work based on research, testing and data.

Being proficient in Photoshop / Sketch / HTML & CSS enables you to practice interface design but that won’t make you a better experience designer. Until you have observed someone (in silence) using the product you’ve created, you could not possibly understand how mind altering it is to see your work torn apart.

Obox knows this because Marc and I have been there. We commissioned Flow Interactive in Cape Town to test the purchase flow of our old site which involved us sitting behind one way glass while we watched five different people interact with our site. I will never forget the nerves and the anticipation right before the first person typed in our URL and pressed “Login.”

We wondered why she pressed Login, when in fact she had never visited our site before. Her response? “I’m registered on WordPress so I need to login first.” That would’ve been awesome if our site was WordPress.com, however our site was Oboxthemes.com. By the end of the day,  we had made over 1,000 (yes one thousand) notes and observations from just 5 test subjects. Our minds had officially be blown wide open.

So can you just imagine the immense frustration we experience when we sit in the room with people who claim to do something they have no idea about? If you call yourself a User Experience designer you are making claims much larger than you think.

Please, before you show off your ability in understanding what your users want – organise a test, sit quietly, observe and be ready to have your mind blown. I promise you that once the day is over you’ll have a new appreciation of what it means to genuinely be a User Experience designer.

Here is a follow up post for those who want to learn more about user testing, in our opinion the most important part of UX design: The Do’s and Dont’s of User Experience Testing

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