If you’ve spent any time hiring User Experience Designers chances are that they’ve shown you some examples of their work in a portfolio with the following disclaimer:
don’t look at the website though, it’s terrible.
We’re currently operating with this tacit agreement that you can do great design ‘in theory’ but that it’s not our fault if that design never makes it to market. Or if it gets totally transformed so that it’s unrecognisable by the time it goes live.
Can we really go on like this? Doesn’t it make you question your own existence?
Sure, there are a LOT of things that come into play between the time you present your awesome design and when the code hits the live server, but it seems to me that, as UXers and designers, we’re largely stepping away from the plate to wash our hands clean of responsibility for what happens. (How’d you like that mixed metaphor?)
I think we might be letting ourselves off a little too lightly and, for myself, I’m going to take starting a lot more personal responsibility for whether and how much of my design sees the light of day by thinking more about:
- the nature of my engagement with clients and the shape of my projects - as a freelancer, the way that I engage with clients can vary a lot from client to client. I’m going to think more about how I can design engagements that maximise the chances of good design going live (this is part of the reason I recently kicked off UX Tuesdays)
- communicating design and user experience strategy – are you spending enough time on communicating your design to the project stakeholders? Are you giving them tools that they can use to help make good decisions as they move through the implementation process (where, let’s face it, some of the most important design decisions are made in the absence of a designer). Do your clients/managers understand the implications of the decisions they’re making on the integrity of the user experience? Quick tip: a functional spec does not tick this box.
- staying in the debate – are you still around when your design is being taken apart? are you engaging in a discussion to help save your design work? It’s easy to swan off like a princess mumbling under your breath about people who don’t appreciate good design work when they see it. Are you helping them (sometimes with a little force) to learn to appreciate it?
- making sure you’re designing things that can be implemented – it’s all well and good to design a thing of beauty but does the team have the resources to bring it to life? Have you made something that’s beyond their current capability? If so, then, how good is your design really?
From this point forward I’m taking personal responsibility for the design that goes live, no matter how far it is from the documents I might show you from my portfolio.
In the Drupal community they say ‘talk is silver, code is gold‘.
Let’s make a new UX motto: ‘portfolios are silver, live design is gold‘.
Let’s own the work that goes live, understand and explain why it is as it is, and work on the skills we need to make sure more good design actually makes it over the line. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Are you in?