Today, at work, I was debating with other engineers on what the wording of the message should be, when a patient tries to register an already-registered blood test kit. The specifics (or the people) aren’t really important here, but what struck a chord was when someone said “this is up to the UX people”.
We don’t have “UX people”. “UX people” don’t exist.
The UX people
The unspoken assumption here is that there’s a group of people in the company who are responsible for the UX, and they’re the ones who should decide what the error message should be. The problem with this way of thinking is that “UX” is shorthand for “making a product that’s easy to use/feels nice/does what you want”. UX is definitely not about making things pretty, you can have the ugliest UI in the world, but stellar UX.
When you think about that, it’s clear that there are no “UX people”. You’re not supposed to do “eh, whatever” and throw it over the wall to someone who will double-check all the decisions you’ve made, and come to you and say “this is hard for users to use”. It’s the responsibility of every single person in a company (from designers to engineers to PMs to HR) to think about how what they do affects the user’s experience, and to try to improve it. Obviously, the closer you are to the end result, the more it is your job to think about UX, and to try to ensure it’s good, but there’s no single person that runs around being the “Let’s Make the Product Great” person.
We have designers, why not UX people?
You may have “UX experts”, people who are more experienced in UX and can point out improvements, but they don’t absolve you of responsibility, because UX isn’t an isolated aspect of a product. You can’t point to something and say “here’s the backend, and here’s the UI, and here’s the UX”. UX is the sum total of the behaviour that your product exhibits as the user interacts with it.
There’s nobody to whom you can offload the responsibility of having to think about your user. Especially as a developer, all the interactions your user will have with what you’re building are your responsibility the most, because you’re the ultimate decisionmaker for how the service will behave. Of course, as I said above, this is a shared responsibility, but the responsibility increases the closer you are to the implementation.
Whose job is it?
It’s very important to understand the above, especially in situations where you’re dividing up responsibilities. If you think of UX as some concrete aspect of the product, you might fall in the above trap, where UX is somehow not your responsibility, like the payments service isn’t your responsibility. This leads to the mindset that you can just do any old thing, and then a “UX person” will come along and correct you if you do it wrong, which is disastrous, because it results in a bad default.
If you think that UX isn’t your responsibility, then you’re going to be making frustrating products until someone comes along, thinks about the user’s experience, and fixes some of it. This leads to mostly-frustrating products.
If you think that UX is everyone’s responsibility, and think about how the user will perceive of the product, interact with it, feel while using it, then you make good products by default. Someone might still come along and propose improvements, but you’re going to start from a much better place.
In Greek, there’s a word for this approach to building, “meraki”. Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to translate accurately, but it mostly means “taking pride in one’s work, putting in the time to polish it, doing it well”. It’s more or less the opposite of the Chinese “cha bu duo” (roughly “eh, close enough”).
It’s up to you how you want to make the things you make, but, personally, I find that spending a few minutes to think about how the user might use the stuff you make doesn’t take much effort, and usually leads to much better results. It’s the difference between a menu item requiring one click instead of three, which will add up to hours saved many people have to click the same menu item, many times a day.
These were just some random thoughts I had on the matter, and I’m glad the golden age of blogs is over because it means I can jot stuff down without stressing about whether it’s good or not, cha bu duo.
In retrospect, I’m happy that my coworker said what he said, because hearing it bothered me, and led to me spending a bit of time trying to think about what exactly it was that bothered me, which led to the realization that UX isn’t something that can be isolated. I hope this article changes how you approach UX as well.