After UX Lx, still no idea what the UX stands for 00:34 on Monday
Three weeks ago I came to the UX Lx conference in Lisbon with one goal in mind: I wanted to find out if there’s a consensus on what User Experience is. My verdict after three long days of workshops, talks, coffee breaks, and beer towers: there isn’t. Nobody knows what UX means.
Actually, that’s wrong. Almost everybody is pretty sure of what UX is. The problem is that there’s no shared meaning for “user experience” and the opinions are varied enough to make the term vague, even irrelevant.
Taking a page from the amusing Eric Reiss and his Copywriting for the Web presentation, we (as the UX community, if there is one) have no shared reference for UX among us. We share common beliefs but not a common reference: we want to use our design powers to fix broken experiences and make the world better by creating new, good experiences. And because of these common beliefs, we slap the “UX” tag on basically any concrete activity that furthers our beliefs.
Not sure if this is a cause or a consequence of the above, but I feel there’s an aura of magic around UX.
This aura is good for the enthusiasm it creates in people: a junior pixel pusher can get energized when skinning buttons becomes user experience design. After all, the visual look of buttons is a highly relevant issue of user experience — one highly relevant issue, that is. A usability researcher is no more doing an interview after another, but they’re actually making observations about the the user experience. The vagueness of the term evokes a sense of whole, that makes the work of a peg feel all the more important, and thus rewarding.
And if you’re into the kind of marketing that promises heavens on earth with such clever wording, the advertiser will never get caught lying, “user experience” is a silver bullet for you. Just push out the next version of your product with a “now at least 27% better user experience” sticker on it.
But the magic aura of UX is also a bad thing. The fluff of the aura, and the self-confidence of UX practitioners, makes it difficult to discuss anything labeled “user experience”. The aura clouds progress, and slows down change, apart from cosmetic improvements in the details.
I have no idea what to suggest people do about this. Maybe we just need to let all voices be heard, and wait for a clear and shared definitions to appear in the long run.