Going undercover

ByMichele Ide-Smith

Going undercover

Do you sometimes feel like you are the only one who thinks it’s important to find out how your customers use your organisation’s website? Have you ever read user experience design books where you think “yep that all sounds great, if you’ve got loads of time and a big budget to boot, but how am I going to get agreement from stakeholders to spend time and money on that?”

If you feel like you’re struggling to do user experience design *properly* then you should probably read Undercover User Experience Design by Cennydd Bowles and James Box, who both work at the well respected Clearleft, published within the New Riders Voices that Matter series. It’s an easy, enjoyable read and if you’ve ever struggled with introducing user experience design methods or culture into your organisation, you’ll get loads out of this book.

The authors provide clear descriptions of a number of UX methods and deliverables and demonstrate how they can be used in context to better understand your users and design for them. But they also tackle organisational culture and how to work with other stakeholders, including project team members and senior managers. And no matter how good your research or designs are, you won’t succeed if you can’t work collaboratively and influence your colleagues or clients.

I’ve worked in the private and public sector, agency side and in-house. I’ve always worn multiple hats in project teams. I’ve been the project manager, the developer, the user researcher, the information architect, the user experience designer and the product owner. I found this book really pragmatic because Bowles and Fox don’t assume you are a UX consultant working agency side (aka an ‘outie’), but also provide advice for those working in-house (an ‘innie’).

What they really drive home is this: if you’re passionate about user experience and you care enough to try to make a difference, you can do. By going undercover, being disruptive and getting results.

On the companion website to the book they have re-produced the book’s manifesto from chapter one, which reminds me of the Agile manifesto. I particularly like the statement ” UX is a mindset, not a process—it lasts all the way until the site is live, and after”.

“We believe in going undercover. We don’t mean you should skulk around in the dark. As an undercover user experience designer, your mission is to get people excited about UX without them realizing what you’ve done. Unless you’re an expensive consultant or a senior manager, you won’t do this by knocking on the CEO’s door and demanding change. User experience design is disruptive. It asks difficult questions. Good-enough managers in good-enough companies don’t want you to rock the boat; they’re busy worrying about meeting next month’s targets.

We believe in introducing UX from the ground up. Sneak UX into your daily work, prove its value, and spread the message. Results are more persuasive than plans.

We believe change comes through small victories. Putting users at the heart of a business is a huge cultural change. It takes years. But you’ll be surprised what you can achieve with focus, patience, and persistence.

We believe in delivery, not deliverables. Some people practice user-scented design, not user-centered design. They churn out documents—sitemaps, wireframes, specifications—but they’re not interested in what happens next. UX is a mindset, not a process—it lasts all the way until the site is live, and after.

We believe good design today is better than great design next year. There’s no such thing as perfection in design, particularly on a medium as fluid as the web. You’re not here to impress other designers; your job is to make your users’ lives better.

We believe in working with people, not against them. Just as we empathize with users, we must respect and understand our colleagues. We reject elitism and accept that compromise is healthy. Passion is fine; zealotry is not.

We believe in action, not words. Introducing UX into your company is a lot of work. No one will do it for you, so you’d better get cracking. Remember, it’s often easier to get forgiveness than permission.”

If you’re a seasoned UX professional then you may feel you can do all this and more standing on your head. But I would highly recommend Undercover User Experience Design as a good read nonetheless. And for those ‘innies’ among us, particularly those who often feel like a lone voice championing the user, this may well be the book for you and your colleagues. I’ve already lent my copy to two people in my team!

This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


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