You Don’t Know What I Know, and That’s Okay

long empty hallway
Evangelizing UX sometimes feels like a long journey.

We all come to the table with different understandings, experiences, and knowledge bases. It is so easy to forget. Once we’ve been working with a certain technology or in an environment for a while it’s easy to make assumptions based on our own knowledge. As a UX professional, part of my job is to have empathy for users’ current knowledge base rather than judging them for what they may not understand. At times I have to apply this to my relationships with other technologists.

I was taken off guard recently when I was called on the carpet to defend my statement that expecting a user to open a new browser tab was a work-around, not a solution, for a multitasking requirement. I sputtered a bit as I tried to recall arguments I’d used in similar situations. It was challenging to find the words to defend the idea of designing to accommodate the user’s current skill level rather than expecting a user to learn new browser skills. My professional role is based on doing just that.
I nearly came back with the witty retort “Seriously?! It’s 2011! Have you not heard of easy to use software?” I had to take a step back. This person is not a fellow UX professional. This person does not spend his professional life trying to understand how people use things and how they make sense of their worlds. That’s not his job. It’s mine.

To be a good UX designer, I need to wear my ethnographer hat to tailor my methods and deliverables to be effective within the environment I am currently working. If the team I’m collaborating with can’t understand wireframes, then I need to find a different way to communicate the design. Perhaps I need to make a quick video walking through the storyboard and white-boarding. Empathy for the users of my design deliverables. Peter Morville has some great thoughts on changing approaches to User Experience Deliverables.

That can become exhausting for UX folks. We don’t get to be possessive of many of our methods, and we never stop finding people who struggle to understand what we do. UX has grown considerably as a discipline. In some of the larger markets, UX methods like usability testing are standard practice. But for those of us scattered elsewhere over the globe, we continue to introduce clients and teammates to the beauty of learning about and designing for the user. Some days after reading too many blogs and articles from UX rockstars, explaining what you do to a colleague is a bit deflating.

While we may have the burden of being flexible, we have the coveted position of making people’s lives easier. There’s nothing better than that moment when you show someone how much easier things can be. The smile and relief in the eyes of that user are enough motivation to keep slogging forward and explaining what I do as many times as it takes.