UX, As Told Through Hip Hop

“This is a public service announcement / Sponsored by my missus, and the good folks in the UX community / Fellow UXers, it is with the utmost pride and sincerity / That I present this blog post, as a living testament and recollection / Of history in the makin’, durin’ our generation.

ABOVE: My “Gran-gsta” Gran, outside her crib in the mean streets of Derby, England.

Allow me to re-introduce myself / My name is Joe, oh, J to the O E / I used to push pixels in Adobe…”

Who am I kidding, my rap game’s on a par with Honey G. I’d fair much better in a dance-off though!

Anyway, back to business. So, Hip Hop. It’s what I spent all of my teen years listening to (alongside, Hall & Oates’ Greatest Hits). I’m now nearly 32, and am still very much influenced by the music I love to listen to. Not to get all philosophical, but Hip Hop can teach us a lot about life, and the highs, lows, challenges and choices, we’re faced with on our journey through it. It can even teach us about UX! Yes it can, indeed, and I’m going to try and demonstrate how, by sharing lyrics from some of my favourite artists growing up.

"If I Can't" by 50 Cent

“If I can’t do it, homie, it can’t be done”

Analysis: 50 Cent - a bloke who had more beef than McDonalds, and a bank balance that disappeared faster than Kim Kardashian's knickers. Sorry Kanye. Here, Fiddy rather arrogantly eludes to the fact that he's "superhuman". If somebody of his stature and fame can't complete a task, then there's no hope for the rest of us - okay, maybe less so, nowadays, but certainly when he was in his prime! By the way, is he still endorsing Vitamin Water?

Learning: Likewise, when it comes to UX, if your so-called, "power users" (those who use your website or app, on a regular basis) are unable to complete a task, chances are, your new, first-time users, are going to struggle even more so.

“Moment of Clarity” by Jay-Z

“I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars”

Analysis: “HOVA! HOVA!” [Proceeds to throw diamonds up] Now, this guy, knows how to put on a “Live” show! In this track, taken from “The Black Album”, Jigga’s highlighting the fact that he’s lowered the quality of his lyricism, in an effort to attract a wider audience. Whilst previous albums, like “Reasonable Doubt”, were deemed to be classics, the complexity of his rhyme schemes, and the underlying metaphors, were wasted on some of his listeners, meaning his albums weren’t as commercially successful, as they perhaps should have been.

Learning: You could have the most visually stunning app or website, with the fancy, slick transitions to support, but it will inevitably be wasted on some users, especially if in turn, it hinders their ability to complete the task they set out to achieve. Look at the bigger picture, and focus your efforts on what will appeal to the majority of your users, not the minority — even if it means stripping things back, you don’t necessarily want to. Sacrifice your perfectionist traits, for the greater good.

“Victory” by Puff Daddy Ft. Busta Rhymes & The Notorious B.I.G.

“So when you hear somethin, make sure you hear it right / Don’t make a ass outta yourself, by assumin”

Analysis: Puffy or Diddy, P, Papa… Papa Diddy Pap, or whatever he calls himself these days, in layman’s terms, is basically saying, make sure you know the facts, rather than assuming, based on hearsay. Get your s**t straight, otherwise you’ll more than likely cause a ruckus. Aight.

Learning: Don’t assume you know what’s right, or what’s best for your users; ask them directly. Second-guessing, is a risky move, which has dangerous consequences — higher bounce rates and exit rates, lower levels of engagement and retention, abandoned orders, etc. Test and learn.

“Go to Sleep” by Lupe Fiasco

“If talk is cheap, then my silence is diamonds. Preach”

Analysis: Now to a damn good rapper, who made a damn good skateboarding song. Lupe closes off this track, with a very powerful message, which could be interpreted in a couple of different ways. For me, it says, words are easy to obtain, but being the “Connoisseur of Fine Rhyme” that Lupe is, his words are rare and invaluable (like diamonds). As such, silence would be costly, given he has such lyrical genius to showcase.

Learning: Somewhat contrary to the above, when it comes to usability testing, don’t just listen to what your users say, also watch how they interact with your product / solution, at the same time. Sometimes, what they say out loud, doesn’t always tie up with what they’re doing. It’s easy to be misled by what the user is telling you, when in fact, the more important insight can be obtained from what they’re not telling you, they’re actually doing.

“Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J

“Don’t ever compare / Me to the rest that’ll all get sliced and diced / Competition’s paying the price”

Analysis: A ’90s classic, from the guy who made the Kangol bucket hat, an essential Hip Hop accessory. Simply put, LL doesn’t want to be compared to others, as he’ll lyrically “floor” them, with his left hook and right uppercut — POW!

Learning: Try not to get too bogged down with constantly comparing and benchmarking your product / solution, against the competition. Innovate, don’t imitate — what’s right for one, isn’t always right for all. Focus the fight strategy and all of your energy on identifying with, and delivering the best-possible experience, for your users — not those of your rivals.

“Try Again” by Aaliyah Ft. Timbaland

“And if at first you don’t succeed / Then dust yourself off and try again / You can dust it off and try again, try again”

Analysis: Aaliyah was an incredible talent, who was tragically taken away from us, at the tender age of 22 — R.I.P. Her music will however, forever live on in our memories. Here, she’s describing how you should never give up, at the first attempt of trying. Through patience and persistence, you may just eventually get that response you’re hoping for.

Learning: This plays into the Silicon Valley saying, “Fail Fast, Fail Often”. Failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s part of the continuous improvement cycle. With each failed attempt, you learn from those mistakes, and implement change, in an attempt to better the situation. Progressively, over a number of iterations, you’ll hopefully find yourself with a much-improved product / solution. As hard as it may be to take on board the negative feedback / criticism, don’t give up at the first time of trying — “Dust yourself off and try again”.

“Trust” by Nas

“If you scared to take chances, you’ll never have the answers”

Analysis: Just like Jigga, “Nasty Nas” (I’m sure he’s a nice chap, really) deserves the plaudits for his lyrical accomplishments over the years — for “Illmatic” especially. With this line, he’s empowering his listeners to be brave, and take risks, without fretting about the consequences. Whatever it is you’re setting out to achieve, just give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen? You may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome, or even rewarded, for having the balls to take that gamble, in the first place.

Learning: All too often, as UX Professionals, we find ourselves holding back from proposing new ideas, or trying new things, usually for fear of having our ideas shot down by the powers that be — the “Hungry HiPPOs”. F**k them (perhaps, not literally)! Don’t look back in anger because you missed an opportunity to push forward a change for the better. Act in the present, and make your voice be heard. The worse they can say is “No”. And if they do, it’s their loss. You then move on, safe in the knowledge that you gave it your best shot, which is much better than not having a go. We need more “Disruptors” and “Innovators” in our profession, with that visionary, game-changing, kind of attitude. Go get ‘em.

“Don’t Believe The Hype” by Public Enemy

Learning: Public Enemy, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most critically-acclaimed groups in history. This whole song was pretty much their way of giving a huge “up middle finger” to the press and media, who wrote about them in a negative light. It’s essentially saying, ignore the buzz, marketing and rumours around a story, or an individual. It ain’t all that!

Analysis: Given the way in which technology is rapidly evolving, in our industry, there’s always hype around what the next big thing will be — currently, AI, VR, Augmented Reality, Machine Learning, Conversational Commerce, etc. Some of these things, will in the coming weeks and months, prove to be worthy of the hype they were billed up to be — others, unfortunately won’t. Form your own judgement, and invest time, money and resource, wisely.

See! Hip Hop’s not just about sex, drugs, violence and mula (money). A lot of it is intellectual, inspiring and motivational, with deep and meaningful, underlying messages. If you’re still not convinced, have a listen to Talib Kweli, Common, or even, Lupe Fiasco — his multi-layered lyrics, go deep! Failing that, there’s always this guy…


Originally written and published to www.uxchap.com on November 11th 2016, by Joe Pendlebury.

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