Evan Dennis — https://unsplash.com/photos/i--IN3cvEjg

Are UX Designers Unsure? Uh, Maybe…

“I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong…”

— Richard Feynman

Doubt is uncomfortable…

When I doubt myself I feel unstable, like I’m in a precarious position. Without a strong opinion it’s difficult to feel confident in arguments. After all, nobody wants to end a discussion with a colleague by saying “well I guess I don’t know, Fred” when Fred’s half-baked idea is obviously not a great choice.

Backing down from being right can make it feel like the other person is winning the discussion with a dumb idea and that feels bad. The urge to build a strong opinion and defend it, even without supporting information, is overwhelmingly strong.

Many people form strong opinions to build themselves up as experts, but the reality is that…

Strong opinions do not make me right…

Strong opinions just mean I have a set way of thinking in my mind and I am less open to changing my opinion. Being open to new ideas and opinions, changing direction, and revising my thinking requires doubting my own ideas and wondering if there is something I don’t already know.

I can’t remove doubt by holding onto a strong opinion and not questioning it. To figure out what the right thing is I must remove doubt, but to have doubt in the first place I have to be comfortable with it.

I remove doubt by exploring various aspects to a problem, making falsifiable predictions, and testing various solutions.

This is not to say that I should constantly doubt and second guess my ideas, but that…

Being comfortable with doubt empowers me…

Instead of coming to early product meetings with the Definitive Answer (stated, of course, in authoritative capital letters), I come to the meeting with the things I know, the things I do not know, and the approach that makes the most sense at the current juncture with the information I know.

Often a project will have many approaches to it, and sitting on my own thinking hard about which one I like best is unlikely to yield success. What does yield success is picking the brains of the smart people around me and people who will be using the product I’m working on so that I understand different aspects of the project that are known (via coworkers), those that are unknown (via users), and what will make a significant difference in the quality of the product (via user testing).

This is not to say that I come to meetings unprepared, but that…

Open-ness to other options helps me make better decisions in the long run…

There is nothing wrong with being open to ideas, cultivating the best, and discarding the worst. This is the basic tenet of science. I come up with ideas I can test to see if they are true. If I find an option that is true and I have a suspicion that’s the right way to go, I spend time thinking about which circumstances could make it false.

I doubt my darling idea. I’m open to my darling not being the best option.

And I mean it.

I list out the ways I could be wrong. I whittle my list of ways I could be wrong into a short list and figure out how I could test whether I am right or wrong under certain conditions.

This is not to say I want to be wrong, but that to be right I must…

Be prepared to kill my darlings…

If I let ideas that are only a delicate facade out into the world they’ll be discovered, eventually. But if I prepare my ideas for reality, if I find their weak link and exploit it without success, my ideas are better prepared for the real world.

It’s like having children.

Nerfing the world so my daughter never gets hurt does her a disservice in the long run. I don’t want her to be hurt, but to help her grow I must let her be hurt. Once she’s hurt I can show her how it happened and how to avoid it in the future. Over and over and over again.

It sucks. That’s life.

This is not to say that life sucks and we shouldn’t try, but that…

Durable darlings are where the possibilities lie…

Possibility does not exist in a world where everything is already written and routine. Possibility exists in a world where I am open to options and do not close the doors through which opportunity beckons because I’m really attached to my ideas.

Durable ideas do not require 100% certainty or absolute destruction of all other options, but they do require the willingness to open the door to doubt and test the options to make certain they are strong.

To ensure my ideas are good I have to doubt them.

Here is the full Feynman quote on doubt, which I so thoroughly enjoy:

“I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain… In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”

— Richard Feynman

That doubt, and being open to alternatives and making progress through these alternatives, is where the opportunities truly spring for us.

If UX has one superpower, it is embracing doubt and remaining open to possibility, wherever it may lie.

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