About 8 years ago I was invited to a dinner organised by a VC firm in London. It was a discussion dinner with a few entrepreneurs and investors talking about current trends and topics in technology.
When I looked at the attendees list profiles, one particular person caught my attention, lets call her Kelley.
Her profile stated:
“Kelley is one of the world’s foremost experts in user experience. She is a Silicon Valley thought leader who has advised many of the largest global B2B and B2C corporate web sites and ecommerce initiatives. Her firm has worked with many of the most successful digital entertainment companies including AOL, Microsoft, HMV, Sony, BSkyB, MTV, Universal Records and others.”
I was “intrigued” to meet this expert and thought leader, and rightly so, she was charming and a true expert, not only on user experience, but pretty much on everything. Throughout the evening she told us what is wrong with most successful companies in the world, it went something like this:
Amazon is shit, they are not going to be around much longer…
eBay are crap, they don’t know what they are doing…
Google is totally useless…
No one’s going to use Facebook…
There was no particular explanations behind these statements, thought I suspect that these companies were mostly doomed as they didn’t enlist her user experience ‘expertise’ to fix their problems.
Thankfully there was something positive, it was about the music startup that she was building at the time and how it would revolutionise everything from music to e-commerce to social networking and content. Sadly that company never launched to show us how it’s all done by the “experts”.
The reason I remembered this story is because last week, I had a meeting with one of these user experience ‘experts’. Someone who came to my office and spent over an hour criticising every aspect of our website. He criticised everything, the fonts, the colours, the images, the navigation, the login options, everything… After about an hour, he suggested that as he can already see how much value I am getting from this conversation, I should hire him as a consultant at $170 per hour. I am still considering it…
This made me think, perhaps I can be an ‘expert’ too, for example a car expert:
Porsches have a stiff suspension and the seats are too low — therefore they are shit.
Ferraris’ back seat is too small and it is hard to put in a baby seat — therefore they are useless.
Anyone can criticise and scrutinise anything, in fact it is easier to be negative then positive, but baselessly criticising everything doesn’t make you an expert, it makes you a grumpy douchebag.
So WTF is a user experience expert anyway. The English dictionary defines an expert as:
“A person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area”
Doesn’t sound that it is related to aimlessly criticising everything in your field of expertise.
In reality the only path to being knowledgeable or skilful is having done it before. You may be good with UX design, but unless you have worked on something that’s used by millions of people and/or generates millions of $ in revenue, you are most likely not a user experience expert.
So if you think you can do it better then anyone else, go and build something awesome and show us all how it’s done.