Tales From the Indescript
by Darren Hood
With the masses rushing to get into UX, in the midst of all the skills being taught and discussed, there is a lack of soberness that’s left out of the zeal and/or the accompanying insights are omitted from the “career sales pitches.” Truth is, while UX is indeed valuable and valid as a discipline, it presents many challenges to practitioners. Sometimes, we refer to these as “nightmares,” but I’ve decided to put a spin on that mindset. I’m going to start sharing these stories under the title “Tales From the Indescript,” sharing them in written and comic strip form (Issue 1, shown below).
The comic series (shown above) made its debut on April 22, 2021. It will evolve over time as our artistic skills are honed and I outgrow my dependence upon existing asset libraries (yep, I’m learning how to draw comics. In the meantime, I also recognize that some stories can be shared via both venues, while you just can’t do some stories justice without sharing them via the written word.
In the spirt of the latter, here are our first written tales from the indescript. They might be presented in comic form later, but I can be more detailed via the written word, so here goes. ;-)
The Designer That Wasn’t a Designer
In an effort to help advance an organization’s UX maturity level and expand the UX research practice, a UX team lead and senior UXer launched a campaign to secure a license for a remote usability testing solution. Painstaking efforts were taken to go before internal committees and gather information to confirm the prospective benefits of the endeavor. The approach and information obtained made for an iron-clad case.
After obtaining all of the necessary approvals, the UX team also discovered an “undocumented” part of the process. The team was later required to go before what was considered to be an unofficial panel in order to secure approval to move forward.
As everyone gathered for the meeting, the C-suite leader arrived with a look of total disgust on his face — a look that said, painstakingly, “Why am I here?” and “There’s no way I’m going to approve this!” The UX team knew they were sunk before the meeting even started. Nevertheless, the meeting proceeded.
After hearing the UX team’s presentation, one of the unofficial committee members expressed their concerns with the effort, saying “I understand what you’re getting at, but we’re B2B. The evidence you presented is all based on B2C” (as if it mattered—it didn’t and doesn’t). But it gets far, far worse.
To conclude the meeting, the C-suite attendee made his final determination. He felt we didn’t need the solution to do our jobs or enhance our operation. The reason for the decision? “I’ve been designing for 10 years,” he said, “and I’ve never used any such solution to validate my designs.”
What’s the catch (someone might be asking)? Had he been designing for 10 years? Yes, that was accurate. It’s the WHAT that’s the key takeaway. Have you ever seen the interface for a mainframe application? They all look something like the following….
In addition to the fact that a solution to remotely test this interface doesn’t exist, ALL mainframe interfaces look practically identical. It takes ZERO design expertise to construct a mainframe interface. Hence, the person who claimed he’d been designing for 10 years wasn’t being forthright or ethical. He just wanted to shut the UX team’s effort down.
Addendum: Issue 5 was published as a result of that experience.
“I Know Someone Who Can Stop You”
A senior UX designer was tasked with helping to drive the UX maturity level at his company. To achieve this, he sought to establish an Intranet site for the UX Team. The site would be used to share general information about UX and the team, share UX success stories in the organization, and provide a way to engage with internal stakeholders and clients.
The team lead was excited about the proposed plan and gave the senior UXer the green light to get started and provided direction on who to contact in order to get started. The senior, immediately, began running into road blocks. He couldn’t get clearance for server space to house the site. He couldn’t get approval for use of an external server. Eventually, he had to settle for using a standard in-house solution. It wasn’t the best method, but it was a start.
Upon hearing about the initiative, one of the team members became incensed. “Who told you you could do this,” he exclaimed! The senior UXer provided a history of the progress thus far and the support being received. The detractor’s visage became even more infuriated. With eyes full of daggers and turning red, he made a statement that let the senior UXer know something was grossly amiss. “I KNOW SOMEONE WHO CAN STOP YOU,” he yelled!!!
The “conversation” ended…. and the work on the Intranet site continued. It went live on Confluence about 3–4 weeks later. The detractor NEVER contributed to the effort. He couldn’t. That was part of the issue.
In retrospect, why would anyone want to stop the team’s progress? Why would anyone seek to block the establishment of a UX Intranet? What was the purpose? What would be gained by such a move? It was also later discovered that the detractor had been taking notes from discussions with the senior UXer and repeating them before leadership to make himself appear more knowledgeable and more qualified. With the Intranet site, the cat was out of the bag.
The EQ Test That Went Awry
A presentation on emotional intelligence was given to a local UX team. As everyone proceeded through the talk, there was a segment that invited everyone to participate in a brief EQ evaluation consisting of about 15 questions.
Once the test concluded, people began to compare scores. People weren’t very surprised to see what the tests revealed personally, but when the participants discovered the score of the senior UXer leading the talk, things went off the rails. News of that person’s high scores revealed levels of toxicity that were downright frightening, as reflected by the following statements
- “How did your score get to be so high?!?!?”
- Anyone can cheat on these tests!!!!!
- “These tests are rigged!!!”
To make matters even worse, the end of the presentation included several book recommendations for anyone looking to learn more about EQ. When the list was presented, someone yelled “I guess you get commission if we use the links to buy any of these books, huh?!?!?! Interestingly, nobody recognized how the vilification demonstrated and confirmed why everyone’s EQ scores were so low.
Yep…. the EQ test resulted in the equivalent of a cognitive riot. Who knew?
As stated earlier, it’s one thing to have an interest in being a UX professional. It’s another to have an understanding of what awaits. After 20+ years in the mainstream business world, many companies are still discovering what UX is, while many still lack a mature grasp on the discipline. In addition, there are many practitioners in the field that are very insecure, many of which aren’t really qualified, thereby resulting in toxic and extremely dysfunctional modes of operation. Each of these factors paves the way for a rude awakening for many.
Some will see this as a “negative” presentation, but as I often tell my students, “I’d rather you know what lies ahead and prepare mentally than to be blind-sided, discouraged, and taken aback by what you encounter.” THIS IS WHAT THE WORLD OF UX IS LIKE TODAY!!!
Be ready so you can navigate the violent waters of UX successfully.
Darren Hood is a 26+ year UX practitioner with a broad professional footprint that spans several types of business. He serves as an adjunct professor at Kent State University (Kent, Ohio), Lawrence Tech University (Southfield, Michigan), and Harrisburg University (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is also one of the authors featured in “97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know.”