UX Relational Factoids (or Insights For Successful Engagement with UX Professionals)

by Darren Hood, MSUXD

Originally published in 2016, this piece was written as a partner post to “When a UX Professional Speaks.” It provides additional insights into the psyche and persona of UX professionals, helping aspiring UXers, stakeholders, and leaders to understand how true UX professionals are wired. After all, it’s never just about the work. It’s about the cognition and functionality behind the work.

Many organizations are embracing user experience, building teams and attempting to transform into design-led companies. Some efforts are successful and some are fledgling. One of the reasons for the latter involves the failure to recognize the things that make UX professionals tick, as well as a lack of emotional intelligence required in order to engage with UX professionals. Yes, we talk about wireframes, prototypes, ethnography, contextual inquiries, content strategy, and the like, but the interpersonal elements usually go overlooked, resulting in dysfunction, failed or undesirable project results, and…. attrition — all of which cost companies millions (potentially).

Today, I’d like to mention some of these more obscure elements that, if recognized and embraced, will help us to achieve the success we desire. Before I mention some key (what I’d like to refer to as) UX relational factoids (i.e., key information that will inform regarding how UX professionals think , function, and interact), I’d like to mention in advance that this list is quite atypical. In other words, many either wouldn’t make a connection between these elements and the world of UX. Upon further review, however, everyone will come to know that each one is key to successful interpersonal interactions, especially with non-UX professionals.

Ready? Here goes:

  • What is a UX Professional?: At the highest levels of operation, a (true) user experience professional is a combination of a cognitive psychologist and a designer. A designer…. designs. But a designer that’s a cognitive psychologist designs based on the findings from his or her research, insights, tenets, and best practices. We don’t make decisions because of personal preferences. We don’t embrace something because of a heart-felt affinity. We don’t allow ourselves to be influenced by HIPPOs (the highest paid person’s opinions). We aren’t subordinate to politics. We decide to do things because there are valid points of proof that show us how to proceed in a manner that fosters wins for the end users, as well as the business.
  • Void of Bias: Building on the last point (and as mentioned), (true and mature) UX professionals don’t make decisions based on personal preference. As a matter-of-fact, (true) UX pros will constantly suppress something that’s a personal preference, because we embrace data as providing directives for our design initiatives.
  • Void of Whimsy: True professionals have reasons (and data) behind their recommendations. If you’re not clear on what’s been presented, I’d recommend engaging in a dialog where the UX associated working on a given project would be more than happy to provide more details behind the whos, whats, wheres, whys, and hows associated with their design solutions. Remember, we never do anything on a whim.
  • We’re Not Disrepectful…. We’re Just Not Order Takers: Many who don’t understand how UXers tick engage in the business of telling us what to do and how to do it. This will usually result in a blank stare and raised eyebrows. Is it because we don’t care what someone thinks? Of course not. We are so disciplined (and taught), however, that instead of being told what to do, we simply need to know what needs to be accomplished. UXers come from a school of thought that we are responsible for fostering wins for the business and advocating for the users…. simultaneously. With the exception of a project’s goals, we already have the methodologies and know-how to achieve these things. All we need to know is what the team is trying to accomplish. Once we know goals, we can engage. Therefore, telling us what to do and how to do it is actually quite fruitless and unnecessary. It’s also demotivating, distracting, and counterproductive. It also indicates that we may need to “manage up” in order to achieve success on a project (which isn’t a good thing). NOTE: If and when you encounter a person occupying a UX position that is truly disrespectful, that’s another issue all together. That illustrates a lack of emotional intelligence and should only be attributed to that person — not the discipline as a whole.
  • The Odd Juxtapositioning of UX & Arrogance: When many first encounter and/or begin to interact with a UX professional, if the aforementioned relational factoids aren’t known or embraced, the persona of the UX professional might be labeled as “arrogant.” If that opinion is spread and gains any type of traction, the potential to engage with others successfully can be handicapped (and that’s putting it mildly) before anyone ever truly gets a chance at making things work. Considering the fact that arrogance, by definition, means “having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities” along with the above-mentioned factoids that UXers are data-driven, void of bias, void of whimsy, and dedicated to serving and needs and goals of others (basically being a discipline that demands and requires selflessness in order to truly be successful), associating the concept of arrogance with a UX professional is a juxtaposition that is grossly inaccurate and can damage a team’s cohesion, reputation, and potential. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that the UXers stances are “arrogant,” I’d recommend taking just a little time to examine his or her position on a given topic. The results of your brief investigation might surprise you.

Some of these factoids and insights might be difficult to swallow for some, but I respectfully ask people at least take them into consideration and respond accordingly. For those working with UX professionals, each one of these factoids is important to embrace in order to have fruitful, mutually respectful relationships.

Hopefully, you’ll digest this information properly and govern yourselves accordingly. :-)

You can hear more from the author by checking out the UX Uncensored Medium page or listening to The World of UX with Darren Hood wherever podcasts are available.