State of UX in 2019
Google has made us lazy: “How to make a diary study”; “When to use a hamburger menu”; “Persona template PDF”. A few searches later, we find ourselves following a step-by-step guide created by someone else. And, just like that, we forget the critical thinking aspect of our job.
In the past few years, design has become more accessible to more people. Design firms like IDEO, Frog, and Cooper have done an outstanding job standardizing and popularizing certain design methods. Companies with strong design teams like Google, Airbnb, and IBM have done a similar effort elaborating and sharing design systems, workflows, libraries, and best practices. More and more we rely on resources we have available to jump-start any project.
The issue is that companies are competing for those same search terms, creating formulaic solutions in exchange for a second of your attention. We trust them more than we should. After all, it’s hard to say no to a solution that’s free and easy to implement. While predefined methods can be a great starting point, they can’t be the end. For every article defending a method, there are three going against it. Which one will you believe? Can you apply the same method for every single project? Can you simply copy a competitor and call it a day?
Pressed to deliver answers to our teams and keep the project running, we resort to canned design methods and forget the analytical, creative part of our jobs.
As an industry, we have become obsessed with our design methods. Some designers are so addicted to following the specific set of steps outlined in a playbook, or filling out a persona template that they found online, that they forget to reflect on why they are using that method in the first place. That extreme focus on output rather than outcome can be extremely dangerous to Design as a profession , creating a whole generation of designers who always have to be told what to do next.
The impact on research
Research is the step of the process that suffers the most from canned methodologies. Being restrictive about a specific research method can also impact how much empathy you have for your users and your team:
- By forcing everything to fit a certain box, we miss nuances and opportunities to approach things differently and learn about the diversity of users, scenarios, and contexts we could be designing for.
- By being inflexible in our process, we lose our team’s trust and make our day-to-day a burden rather than a collaborative learning experience.
- By neglecting to think critically about what we are doing, we are only feeding pre-existing bias behind our actions and way of thinking.
We should be thinking more about methodologies rather than methods. We must understand what questions we need to ask instead of starting from the answers we want.
As Joe Munko, User Research Director at Microsoft, insightfully states in his article Skip User Research Unless You’re Doing It Right — Seriously: “Timeless research is really about building long-term organizational knowledge and curating what you’ve already learned”.
In 2019, we should not let our obsession with methods replace our ability to analyze and critically think about our work. Design is about solving problems. And deciding how to solve a problem is the first design problem to be solved.