In this IGNITE session from UPA2011, Centralis' Kathi Kaiser explains how the field of user experience functions like a cult (in a good way), and how we can use that perspective to grow and prosper as a profession.
I’m Kathi Kaiser, I’m a user experience professional – I make things easier for people. I love my job. In fact, to me it’s not just a job, it’s a mission. Which when you think about it, is a little creepy. This got me wondering – is user experience a cult?
I may not be the only one who’s thinking this. Have you said things like, “He GETS it, he’s one of us.” or “they drank the Kool-aid”? We talk about understanding UX as a conversion experience – it’s like seeing the light.
But what is a cult anyway? The word has a negative connotation, but all it really means is “a group with intense interest in and devotion to a person, idea or activity.”
While some cults may in fact be bad or at least dangerous, some academics have argued that self-help groups like AA are also cults. We’re not sure yet if devotion to Apple is “good” or “bad”…
Marc Galanter, a professor at NYU Medical Center has identified four characteristics of cults. They have a shared belief system, strong social cohesiveness, they abide by behavioral norms and they follow a charismatic leader. So let’s see if User Experience qualifies as a cult.
While we differ in our methods and practices, we certainly share certain core beliefs. You know them well: The user is what ultimately matters; there are no stupid users, only bad designs; you are not your user…
Does UX have social cohesiveness? There are so many UX events and conferences that sometimes I wonder how ever get any work done! We like to get together to share our war stories and triumphs. And never mind all the activity on LinkedIn and Twitter…
Do we adhere to behavioral norms? Yes, we have standards for how we conduct research and design and we enforce those standards. Our daily struggle is to ensure that UX is not paid lip service, but that it is actually practiced.
Do we ascribe divine power to our leaders? …Nah, we don’t do that <sarcasm>
So is UX a cult? Looks like it to me… We are a close-knit community with a shared belief system, common practices and a small dose of hero-worship.
So, what does it matter if we’re a cult or not? What are the implications? Seeing as we’re still a young field, thinking of ourselves as a cult can teach us some valuable lessons about what we need to do to thrive.
First off, we need new converts! We need to find and train professionals to carry the torch for UX. And we seem to be doing this pretty well – I meet more and more UX people every year.
To keep our momentum going, we should support our new academic programs for training UX professionals. Part of that training should including mentoring. And we should continue to meet new people and preach the gospel.
As we grow as a field, we need to establish and defend our best practices. We won’t all agree on every small point, but we need to continually have the conversation.
And we’re here at UPA to do that – to share and debate our best practices. We need to push each other to do the best work we can – no imposters accepted. We excel at examining our own work – let’s keep that going by testing our methods early and often.
And finally, we need to infiltrate, not alienate. We are not holed up in a compound somewhere – we’re out there in the business world. To accomplish our mission, we need to practice UX in a positive way.
No one wants to work with this guy! Sometimes we come across like we think we know everything, and that our perspective is the most valuable. Well, it’s not. It’s one voice, and if we’re always yelling, it won’t be heard.
We need to be team players. This means loving our users, but loving the business too! Business goals are just as important as user goals. Blasphemy! So we need to fight the good fight and pick our battles. That’s how we’ll achieve our vision of a brave, new, usable world.
It’s hard. But we can go out into the world, play well with others, and come back here to the cult for support and encouragement. Our jobs aren’t easy, so it’s nice to have someplace to come home to. So if UX is a cult, I’ll drink the Kool-aid.
Does UX adhere to behavioral
norms?<br />Test early, test often<br />observe what users do. don’t just listen to what they say<br />Leverage design conventions<br />Seek and incorporate feedback…<br />