Who Owns Your UX Philosophy? – Sorry Brad, It’s Complicated

In his latest blog post Brad Feld is asking a simple question who owns your UX philosophy? I’m sorry Brad, while I usually prefer short and to the point answers,
my answer here is: it’s complicated.

If [UX = Product] Then [Founder/ CEO/ PM = UX Owner]

Arnold Waldstein, one of Brad’s readers, suggests in an excellent comments discussion, that the UX is the Product. If that is indeed the case, then the Founder/ CEO/ Product Manager should own the UX, all depends on the stage of the startup and the complexity of the product.

Else = [UX Designer]

In early stage startups, an experienced Product Manager should usually be able to fulfill the needs of the UX and UI contributions, for example: to include interaction models, e.g. touch vs. web, overall product flows and paths etc’

In later stage startups that can afford to hire a full time UX designer, the Product Manager might define the problem (Marketing Requirements Docs) for the UX Designer to solve it (Product Requirements Document or just kick-ass experience design).

As a Founder and as a Product Manager I had the privilege of working with many different UX designers and have seen many variations on the PM and design relationship. Good UX designers are very efficient. A good, full-time UX designer on a small team will quickly outrace the rest of the team. For example, in a previous position I met with our very busy designer for only an hour each week, and in that hour he was able to give me enough guidance to solve a week of my UX problems.

Brad is describing three different cases in three different startups with no UX philosophy:

Case No. 1: “No One Felt Qualified”

What does it take to qualify as a UX Designer?  If you’ve ever wondered what a UX Designer does, this ven diagram, made by Dan Safer, a talented Interaction Designer himself, should provide a good representation of the discipline (Dan’s book Designing for Interactionprovides short and clear real design case studies and some great interviews with professional designers):

User Experience Design

User Experience Design

Back to Brad’s case, no surprise that no-one felt qualified,  UX Design is about the joining of the different disciplines, and not particularly a discipline in and of itself. While the best designers I worked with have an awareness of the disciplines that surround and overlap theirs, to be considered a UX designer would necessarily require management and coordination between the disciplines to ensure holistic products.

Case No. 2: “No One Really Knew What I Meant and Kept Conflating UX with UI”

Dan’s diagram above also begs the question: what is user experience design by itself, those areas that aren’t filled up with other bubbles? I tend to agree with Dan that experiences can’t really be designed and that it’s the people (users) themselves who create the experience: “People bring all sorts of history, talents, sensibilities, and culture to bear on any engagement with a product or service. People’s culture, needs, desires, behaviors, and motivations are what shape any experience they have with a product.”

Case No. 3: “It Was a Revelation that Users Were Struggling with a Chaotic and Inconsistent UX

Does it mean we can’t help our users with their poor experience? Absolutely not! I believe that our job as PM/ UX Designer is to provide the resources (i.e product + environment) for people to have an awesome product experience.

How Do You Make an Experience?

Back at my days at NYU ITP, as part of an Interaction Design class, I had to read John Dewey’s book: Art as ExperiencePer Dewey’s, three things have to come together to create an experience: the aesthetic, the intellectual, and the practical (in interaction design these are: usability, utility, desirability). Depending on which one of these dominates is the type of experience the audience has. They are differentiated by the intent we bring to them.

So how do you make an experience? By crafting an aesthetic. Form comes from the subject matter itself. But, importantly, according to Dewey, the artist (UX owner) makes, and the audience (users) remakes. The audience takes your experience (form) and through reconstructive doing remakes it into their own experience.