THE TOP MISTAKES
UX DESIGNERS MAKEWRITTEN BY SCOTT BERKUN
DESIGNED BY GIUSEPPE MARINO
“Rather than talk about tactical mistakes,
such as in prototyping and running studies,
I focused on the ones we overlook the most,
about attitude and culture.” − Scott Berkun
Not credible in the culture.Most designers and researchers are specialists, making them minorities in the places they work. Most
training UX people get assumes they are working alone, which is rarely true. This means their values and
attitudes likely don’t match the work culture of most companies. The burden to fit in, or to recognize what
the culture value’s and provide it, is on the specialist. If you are the best designer alive, but work in a place
ignorant of design, your lack of credibility in the culture renders your design ability useless. Being a
specialist means you will always be explaining what you do, your entire career, including translating your
value into a language your coworkers can understand.
Advice *Earn credibility in your culture on your culture’s terms.
Never make it easy.The first users you have are your co-workers. How easy is it to follow your advice? As a specialist, its easy to
become the UX police, scolding and scowling your way through meetings. No one likes the police. Generally,
people do what is easiest to do. If your work creates more work for them, they will naturally want to avoid
you. Specialists often scowl from ivory towers, where they provide advice that is hard to follow, or
sometimes, hard to understand as it’s not in the language of the culture.
Advice * Make it easy / fun to follow your advice.
Vulcan pretension.There are deeply embedded value systems among designers and researchers that are self destructive. For
research, its Vulcan: “I research, analyze, and produce data. I do not offer my own opinion ever.” But
everyone else does give opinions, and in many cases the opinion of a researcher is more
valuable. Researchers should say feel comfortable saying “This is not based on data, but I think…” which
protects the integrity of data, but allows them to offer opinions just as everyone else does.
Advice * Get out of your office.
Never get dirty.In many tech cultures there is plenty of dirty work to do: mainly finding bugs and reporting bugs. Anyone
can do it, but no one wants to do it, and everyone avoids it. Often there are bug bashes or engineering team
events to find and deal with bugs. As a specialist, its easy to go home early while the development team
stays late to do the dirty work. If you’re part of the culture, you’d stay and help when there is dirty work to
be done. But if you’re a consultant, you’d go home. How do you want to be perceived? For people who don’t
know what you do, helping out with the dirty work may be the first way to earn a positive reputation, or to
make that first friend or two.
Advice *Have something at stake.
Advice * Design for your developers/managers, as they are the first users of your work.
Forget your coworkers are meta-users.Unless you write production code, you are not actually building the product customers use. You make
things, specs, mockups, or reports, that are given to others who must convert your work into the actual
product. This means you must design both for you actual customers, and for your coworkers, who are the
first consumers of your ideas. Usability reports are often tragically hard to use. Mockups and design specs
often forget details developers need such as sizes in pixels, and hex colors.
Pretending you have power.Most specialists play advisory roles. They give advice. There is nothing wrong with being an advice giver.
The challenge in being an advice giver means the critical skill for success is persuasion and sales. You need
to be an expert at selling your ideas. To pretend that you don’t need to sell your ideas, is to pretend you
have power. Advice givers should be evaluated heavily on how much of their advice is followed. Giving
advice is easy. Getting people to follow it is where your value is.
Advice * Consider switching to a role with power.
Ignore possible allies.Among your co-workers, one of them loves you the most (or hates you the least). If you are not enlisting
them to support your requests, or give you feedback you’re ignoring your possible allies.
Advice * Seek powerful allies.
Dionysian pretensionFor designers, its the dreamer mentality as an excuse for not having to do the thinking required to make an
idea real. “I just come up with ideas for things, its not my job to figure out how to make it work.” This is
related to never getting your hands dirty, as all ideas have dirty work required to make them real that must
be done, and if the person coming up with an idea does not participate in the process, it demotivates
everyone else from wanting to follow that idea.
Advice * Drop your ego.
Don’t know the business.Everyone should know why they have a job. Who decided to hire a UX person instead of another developer?
What argument did they make? Find out. Find out how the company makes money and which kinds of
decisions are likely to make profits grow. Having a better UX doesn’t guarantee anything: many market
leading products are UX disasters. How can this be? If you don’t know how that’s possible, then you don’t
understand how many other factors beyond UX are involved in your business.
Advice * Follow the money