New Year, New…UX?

Imagine a world in which humans are their own UX designers. Could we all be one big, happy family? Maybe.

Catriona Campbell
Jan 4 · 6 min read

As with most folks who like to think outside of the box, I’m a huge fan of bending circumstances out of context for the sake of clarity and exposition.

What I mean is, I like to look at how facts or conditions can be applied to events or actions they wouldn’t usually be connected with — by and large through the use of illustrations and metaphors.

Information Architecture — The New Great Stink, my blog post comparing London’s sewer system dilemma with information infrastructures problems, is an excellent case in point — you’ll have to excuse the example-ception here.

In this way, I set myself a mini-challenge of sorts — I love those. Vanquishing that challenge — I love to win even more — not only supplies me with an all-important broader frame of reference as regards any concept, but also helps my audience build a more coherent picture of it.

You see, whether I’m here writing this blog post, at work unravelling a tricky issue for my team, or at a conference delivering a keynote address, the design thinker in me invariably prefers to keep explanations as simple and meaningful as possible.

So, essentially, I can’t help but bring my UX knowledge into the equation. And what would UX be without the creation of experiences the user doesn’t find straightforward and relevant? It would be nada, that’s what!

A UX-Inspired Life

Perhaps not so curiously, my inherent draw to such a line of attack for professional purposes recently led me to reflect on yet another way the details of one situation could have some bearing on another, entirely different and seemingly unrelated situation.

The first situation I refer to is UX. The second — of infinitely greater import — is life itself.

UX designers employ processes to create products and services (just referred to as products from hereon) that provide user-friendly experiences. Before users can even lay their hands or eyes on those products, UX-ers take into account their every aspect beyond usability.

Quite rightly, Don Norman — the whizz who coined the term ‘User Experience’ — once said:

“No product is an island. A product is more than the product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service — from initial intentions through final reflections, from first usage to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly.”

Though, what does this have to do with life? Good question.

I’d like you to think of humans — yourselves that is unless you’re from elsewhere in the universe, which many people I’ve come across in life appear to be — as products.

Then I’d like you to think of those around you — particularly living beings you interact with on some level — as your users. It doesn’t matter if you encounter them regularly or not, nor is it important whether they’re friends, family members, neighbours, colleagues, strangers, the flora and fauna we share this planet with, or even the very planet itself.

Sidebar: In aid of maximum impartiality, let’s avoid any religious or scientific interpretations of who the UX designer would most likely be in this strange little conceit of mine. Instead, as difficult as it may be, you should consider yourselves as your own maker, or in other words, as both designer and product.

Following Don Norman’s words, in the same way no product is an island, no human is an isolated being. Just like a product is more than the product, a person is much, much more than only themselves.

Products are cohesive, integrated sets of experiences, and so too are humans. We all exist as individual players in a much larger ball game, our every action having some intrinsic effect on every living thing around us.

For any product to succeed, it is absolutely vital that each of its stages works together seamlessly. Now, you tell me the same can’t be said of humans? All components of our reality — our thoughts, urges, goals, behaviour, and so much more — directly or indirectly impact our associations with everyone and everything surrounding us.

What if we took the way design thinkers contemplate the relationship between products and their users, as well as the incredible user experiences that sort of contemplation leads to, and then brought into play even the tiniest fragment of that in the way we conduct ourselves as custodians of this earth? What would that look like?

I for one believe that, as products, we’d be infinitely more user-friendly than many of us are at present. We’d operate more compassionately, in a way the needs, wishes and interests of all living things are considered equal to our own.

Of course, we’d be designed with our interactions in mind, and not just once we’re proximate to, say, people, plants or animals, but also as we think about bringing them into our lives. And afterwards too, as we maintain our connections with them, fixing any problems that arise with those connections — all in the countless different contexts in which they may occur.

As our own UX designers, we wouldn’t want to simply concentrate on crafting a passable human, in much the same way as a real UX designer wouldn’t want to merely focus on creating a basic, usable product. Sure, that’s important, but on top of that, we’d wish to look at all facets of the user experience, like the happiness, entertainment, warmth, excitement, security, skills, relaxation, order, nourishment (etc, etc) we’re capable of offering all organisms — even if those organisms aren’t cognizant of receiving such benefits.

With this approach, we’d be consistently better humans — that’s for sure. In addition, it’s possible we’d learn to protect ourselves more effectively. Such a technique would grow from considering the user’s motivations for wanting us in their lives — what they want from us, how they want us to act, what they wish to do to us, the shape they believe their lives could take via our influence, and so on.

We already have the instinct to protect ourselves from threats like hungry tigers, zombies and suchlike, so naturally, this mechanism would probably only be of use in relation to other humans we’re mostly inclined to trust — sneaky scoundrels who decided to dodge the handy UX-Inspired Humans 101 course and who might not have the best intentions. Folks like that can be rotten to the core — often as a product of unfavourable environments dominated by other UX-less humans — and there’s no fixing them up using any method.

I get that UX could never be a panacea for the planet’s gravest issues, a passport to the Elysian Fields of existence, but giving this a bash couldn’t do any harm, huh? Societies and the lands they inhabit could be healthier, wars could become a thing of the past, and we might just give our animal friends a fighting chance for survival.

We could all end up dancing around gleefully in our newfound harmony — I say slightly tongue-in-cheek — instead of heading towards the 6th mass extinction experts have predicted — I say with greater sincerity.

I don’t have a clue what your resolutions for 2020 look like, but if being an improved, less self-serving, more socially- and environmentally-minded version of yourself is on the list somewhere, I hope my musings are of some use to you.

As they (sort of) say, New Year, New…UX!

Catriona Campbell

Written by

A leading UX expert, EY-Seren founder & EY Global Advisor/EMEIA wavespace Leader. The views expressed here are mine & don't necessarily represent EY’s position.

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