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What type of UX:er are you?

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The user-hugger, the artist and the world improver are three flavours of UX. All are needed in different contexts, in different settings. I strongly believe that if we were to admit this, when planning initiatives and defining teams, we could deliver substantially better UX and our digital initiatives could have a greater impact. Do you agree?

“There are 27 definitions of UX”, the Gartner expert on UX told us in a meeting at the clients office some weeks ago. He then beautifully explained how the business needs for UX services in the industry are changing, from simple automation at the workplace to complex empowerment at the workplace and in daily life.

Well, even though this makes perfect sense, the problem is that the world is even more complex than that. As I see it, today we have all the technology needed to make every digital part of a service perfect. Perfect in the sense that it eliminates every unnecessary interaction and totally supports the free spirit of humans. Technology as e.g. hypersonic sound, motion capture, hololens, AI and chatbots.

Despite the technological sweet spot we are in, loads of subpar digital services are still developed and maintained today. Most of the administrative work at any place, whether in the industrial, financial, or public sectors, still ties the human in to deficient digital services. Decision makers and developers working with those types of solutions are tied to old legacy, and will be for some time. This means a lot of solutions on the factory floor, in process industry, and in workshops suffer from that same deficiency.

The need for user experience design is enormous, but as long as there are disparate visions of what this means, there will be disparate behaviours among UX:ers. Actually, this is not a groundbreaking discovery. These different behavior types have been around for the last 15 years. It’s just that the increased expectations on UX work make it more obvious.

Certainly, most of us exhibit a combination of those different behaviours, usually with one more prominent. Most of us also develop from one to another during the years. However, I think it would be easier for both the client and the UX:er if we were open about this.

I have come across three type of UX:ers. I don’t mean to say that this is the only correct way of describing UX behaviours, just that it helps me to navigate this complex world.

The user-hugger

A person who considers UX to be all about understanding and meeting user needs. The user-hugger is very strong at doing user research and is usually good at explaining how the solution should be designed in order to substantially improve the users every day life. They are often trained in the areas of user-centered design and human cognition.

User-huggers feel discomfort when they have to come up with solutions without having enough data about users. During my years I have met product owners (PO) who, when I ask what their biggest problem is, answer “the UX:ers”.  The PO is then referring to their experience that UX:ers are not so good at explaining user needs in a good way to developers, and then when they deliver, the UX:ers are very dissatisfied.

In my discussions with those POs  I always detect problems in how the work is organized.  However, this problem is sustained by the user-huggers´ behaviour. They struggle to explain what capabilities and design elements of the solution that are mandatory (based on findings) and what part of the design that can be designed in many different ways.

Not seldom, user-huggers make impressive as-is user journeys, but struggle to take it into a preferred state. This is where the user-hugger needs a colleague world improver, a product owner or a project leader who can coach her into a way of connecting user needs to business impact.

User-huggers usually love doing UX testing They see this as one more occasion to learn about user needs and expectations. If the team regards as a way verify their design, the user-huggers way of working seems slow and unproductive.  

User-huggers excel in early phases, and in an environment where user needs are totally undiscovered, and when they either learn to understand, or they have others that covers up for the business perspective on things.

The artist

A person who considers UX to be a matter of good design. I often hear them say things that make design sound like the solution to every problem. Skilled artists are able to dig through data in back-end systems, build prototypes, and present polished design suggestions in no time. This person often has their roots in front-end programming and/or visual design.

The artist cannot  thrive in an environment where they are not supposed to deliver some design suggestions. They become unhappy and sometimes unproductive in an environment where the task is to help an organisation understand user needs and making the decisions needed to initiate a project.

The artist thrives in teams that work on a product where the scope is set and where there is a good room for redesign and re-builds. They hate to deliver work that is “ugly” due to constraints in technology, time, or visual style guides. On rare occasions, the artist gets so occupied with defining a beautiful front-end design that they ignore the back-end and requirements for maintainability. In these cases they need a team that slows them down, and expands their focus to the whole instead of the details.  

The artist is all for doing UX testing, preferably based on great looking prototypes, and loves to see response for their design. They are quick in understanding what can be improved, and usually have some suggestions ready when testing is done.    

The world improver

A person who considers UX to be a means to improve business, organization, and society at large. They strive to get a good grip on the type of business the client currently has, and take time to talk with decision makers in words that they like and understand. I’ve met with world improvers who say “I look at decision makers the same way I look at my users. I do some research on them”

The world improver could have any background, but often engineering or industrial design.

The world improver hates to do design where there is no definition of the impact for business or value to users. Usually, they are not a skilled designer, but are good at sketching out and testing concepts. They love helping businesses make a plan for a UX initiative and are good at coaching teams and facilitating workshops.

The world improver will do all in their power to ensure that any initiative and delivery has defined goals, and that the design work aligns with those. UX testing is one of their superskills, and they see that this provides the best opportunity to determine whether or not the design meets the desired impact. The biggest problem for the world improver is time. There is often a lack of time to do everything, to meet with everyone, and to follow up on the initiatives they want. They also risk being spread too thin in a large organization, becoming someone who just comes in and gives directions, never doing the hard work.

There are different initiatives where each UX type excels. Assign the user-hugger to do user research, and you will get deep an rooted insights. Assign the artist in development teams and you will get beautifully designed solutions. And assign the world improver when a business needs and wants to make impact by digital innovation.