The Arbitrary of Everything

Throw out the rule book and design for your users


I’ve been noticing a trend in the UX and Product Design community for a while now: Buzzfeed-like articles and blogs stating the

“Top Best Ways To…” or
“Top Trends In…”
or
“This Is Our Process [So You Should Also Do This].

So much time has been spent trying to define UX and trying to be taken seriously by businesses and our Tech. counterparts — outlining best practices, establishing design principles and methodologies, waxing design dogma — that it’s easy to forget

like everything in life, there is no one way of doing things, and sometimes the best way is to have “no” ways.

Wait, what did I just say??

Well, let’s take a step back. Outlining best practices, principles, methodologies, is a way for us to streamline and communicate the hodgepodge of information out there regarding UX and Product Design.

But, I want to ask, how did we get to the point where we’ve accepted some of these as the “right” way to do things? There are many reasons, one being

  • Trust
  • another is, Because Who Has The Time 🤷‍ ?

We’ve come to trust groups of people, organizations, and thought leaders to have invested the time in researching and developing principles and methodologies, so we listen. We listen and apply the same rules when designing our products.

But, following established rules only works some of the time.

Part of being a UX and Product Designer is understanding how people behave. But we have to remember that how people behave is all learned behaviour. What we design and create can either feed into that or, we can offer a new path, a different behaviour, that can be more efficient or offer a better experience for our Users.

It’s easy to fall into a loop and think “this is how it’s done” or “Users are used to doing it this way” so you design towards that. Because why not? Why create friction and curveballs for your users when you can comply with how they think and behave already, offering a more seamless experience?

Well, the reality is, if we break it down to its sources, many of the decisions we — as humans — make are arbitrary.

For example, how did colours end up with gender biases? Pink is considered a “feminine” colour while blue is “masculine”. But if we look back in history, pink was seen “being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl”. Or how we’ve come to attach diamonds to a sign of wealth or class, when in reality diamonds are a common gem, not at all rare or that valuable. Or how about the ritual of getting coffee when asking someone out on a date when really, if you think about it, it’s as arbitrary as eating a bunch of caramels together (okay, this last one I stole from Good Will Hunting).


The point I’m trying to get at is, there is no “decidedly so” behaviour or way of thinking. It’s important for UX and Product Designers to note that they have some power in influencing people.

UX and Product Designers are culture-makers. We help decide — rather, guide — how people interact with a product.

We need to learn to step back more often, look at the real problems and solve towards that, which could mean introducing something brand new, something Users have not really seen or experienced before, something they’re not used to.

And that’s okay.

People nowadays have a lower threshold for accepting new things, behaviours, ways of thinking. This is because of the rapid rate Technology is changing — and it’s taking us all along for the ride.