The Self-Loathing UX Designer

3 things we can do better

Craig Phillips
Mar 4, 2018 · 5 min read
Listen to my audio version of this article, or read on below.

User experience designer.

Hot diggity how I pined for that title. And so many still do, because being a UXer is just about as close as you can get to the elixir of ever-lasting career satisfaction.

Because it’s just that good.

But, sadly, it wont last.

We see signs that the title of UX designer will fade away. Like many others, I’m living proof. Where I used to be a UX designer with expertise in this or that, I’m now a Product Designer with expertise in UX.

I’m not saying that’s right, but it is a thing that’s happening.

I think this is, in part, due to the field being young and largely undefined. What is and isn’t UX is still up for grabs, even now. It differs depending on who you talk to.

We’ve all thrown around the idea of UX maturity in a company. In reality that’s just something designers say to reference the magical mystery of design. There’s no objective definition of UX mature, or UX pre-pubescent.

Here are 3 quick things about UX I want to share with you good people.

Did this trigger you? If it did, I apologize.

But a big trigger of mine is when someone calls a thing we’re designing an experience.

For an experience designer, that’s a tough place to be in. I’ll say it again to make sure I believe it. We don’t design experiences. We design things.

Ok, take a breath. I know this is against everything we hold dear. Bear with me.

We design things with an intention that the people using those things will have a positive experience. The experience is a goal, something we lay out from the start, something we keep in mind throughout.

But to sit down at the start of the day, hot cup of coffee in hand, we don’t open up Sketch and say “let’s design some experiences”.

Digital products. Applications and websites. Maybe someday we’ll design more voice interfaces, or tools that you can move stuff with your eyes, or your mental focus. Who knows. But we have plenty of work until then.

So, designers (or anyone, really) aim to give people positive experiences with those things we make. But frankly speaking that is out of our hands. We try our best, but people are complex as hell and to think we have that kind of power is a far stretch.

We design how things work, how users can interact with them, how it communicates back, and how the thing looks. When these—and many other things we design—come together, a person can have a pleasant, frustrating, or just plain normal experience.

Standards for how people define good and bad change almost daily. It’s a moving target, and things are constantly in flux.

Which brings me to my next point.

Jason Fried, among others, instilled in me a new sense of freedom to kill some precious darlings. Basecamp’s approach (he’s the Founder & CEO) to designing, building, and shipping has brought up a lot of thinking. Specifically shipping without research and user testing.

The point here is not Jason’s thoughts on research. It’s that nothing in UX design—however you define it—is sacred.

Some companies don’t have access to test participants from their target market, and decide to ship before testing with users. That’s ok. If they’re wrong, the market will tell them, and they’ll iterate as needed. Software ftw.

Some teams may jump right into hi-fidelity mock ups, skipping any sketching or wireframes. That’s ok. Maybe they have an awesome design system, or maybe they’re on a deadline and need to get something out the door.

I like making funky product maps and flow diagrams. It’s a critical part of my design process to understand what I’m designing. That’s ok too, and no other designer needs to agree with it.

We’re seeking a shipped product. There are many roads to get us there. As long as your open to learning new things, and self aware, you’ll be ok.

Like I said before, our industry is too ambiguous, ill-defined, and confusing.

Being self-defined is kinda nice. We can decide what UX is to us, and promote that approach within our company. Dream job status.

But as long as we’re undefined, we wont last as a design discipline.

UX design is weak. It isn’t typography, architecture, or graphic design. It has a short history. It will not stand the test of time as long as it’s undefined what it is and isn’t. Anyone can enter, and start making claims on it (exhibit A: me, whom you should follow for these hot takes 🔥).

Also, the way UX is being stretched to other disciplines is alarming yet natural. Something I fully participate in, to be honest. “A good UX designer must be a good copywriter/strategist/business person/UI designer”.

This will keep happening until they say “A good UX designer must be a good receptionist. Sit there and answer the phones with empathy.”

UX needs tough love, and the best place for it to come is from designers like us.

So, don’t loathe yourselves, fellow UX designers. It’s all going to be ok, and we occupy one of the most interesting and dynamic professions around.

But we can be better in so many ways. I hope this gave you a few ideas to continue questioning and improving our industry.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Craig Phillips

Written by

ux designer, product person, cohost of Opacity podcast, writer. enthusiastic about people and what makes them tick.