The Road to UX Hell…

Recently, I’ve begun to see articles and blog posts suggesting that UX, as a discipline, should be retired.

Code and Theory CEO Dan Gardner, believes that UX has “moved from the domain of the few into the work practice of everyone” and goes on to declare that “[UX] may not be in every job title, but it’s part of every job.” Ernie Smith, social media journalist for Associations Now agrees, urging companies to not “silo UX under a single department.”

Reading these articles, what came to my mind was: here we go again.

I’ve been in the UX industry for over 20 years. Perhaps that’s not long compared to some (I hope someday to have been in the field as long as Don Norman) but it’s certainly long enough to have seen the cyclical pattern that has befallen UX design in the past.

Take a company that has relied on their engineers to design and build everything, including the user’s interaction points, for years. They realize that their UX is…less than optimal. Actually, it’s often rather dreadful by the time a company is willing to recognize that they have a problem.

The company leaders decide we need to bring in experts to fix this. So they build up a new team filled with skilled user experience and user interface designers, maybe even a few human factors experts as well. Over the next several years, that team diligently crafts elegant and user-friendly experiences, and they do it exceptionally well.

Too well—because they make UX design look easy. And therein lies their downfall.

Those same company leaders conveniently forget the past, and they start to think our engineers can do this. And either through attrition or outright lay-offs, the UX team crumbles. A few years later, the UX is dreadful once again, and the company leaders start to think we need to bring in experts to fix this. And the cycle begins anew.

It’s not just UX that falls prey to this tendency. I’ve seen it happen with Quality Assurance as well. “Hey, last year we asked everyone to focus on QA … why did our quality drop?” Perhaps because you laid off the entire QA team after you asked everyone else to focus on QA?

My point is: when QA is everyone’s job, it is no one’s job. And when UX is everyone’s job, it is no one’s job.

Employees will focus on the primary responsibilities of their job. If it’s not in their job title, it’s not going to be the focus of their work practice. If an employee’s primary role is coding, she is probably going to draft amazing code—but that won’t necessarily translate into an amazing UX. If the employee’s primary role is visual design, he will give you a truly beautiful user interface—but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be usable or even useful.

Despite the best of intentions, without a discipline whose primary role it is to focus on the user, your user will become a secondary concern. And when your user comes in second, so does your UX.

Given recent estimates that bad UX may soon cost e-commerce companies over a trillion dollars in lost sales, is that a chance you really want to take?