On UX Design/Dev Relationships, Impostor Syndrome and the Urgency of Teamwork (UX Bootcamp Week 1)
(May 7, 2017)
Gosh, it’s been an interesting few months. I worked my last day at my nonprofit job two weeks ago and started at an accelerated tech learning program for User Experience Design (UX). When my head isn’t actively exploding from all the learning, I’ll write more about that decision, what brought me there, and about what UX is. But not today. Today I want to share some reflections, and we can back up later.
Last week was my second week of full time UX Design Bootcamp—and I survived.
In the first week, we talked about a broad range of subjects, from usability testing methods to heuristic analysis to the cultivation of empathy to impostor syndrome. I collected a few articles on things we discussed in class that piqued my interest in some way and I want to talk a little bit about them.
Everyone is a Designer, Get Over It by Daniel Burka
The writer here is asserting that all members of any company team are UX designers to some extent, which I think is possible in the sense that many decisions they make will affect the user.
“Whether you like it or not, whether you approve it or not, people outside of your design team are making significant design choices that affect your customers in important ways. They are designing your product. They are designers.”
But that certainly doesn’t mean that UX is irrelevant—in fact, it seems like it means quite the opposite. UXers are strategists that connect the dots—from products and marketing to the back-end code of a site—UX Designers are advocates for the people that rarely have a voice in the organizational arena: the users.
Peter, a reader responding to the article, said: “Apply this idea to where you fit into an organization — it isn’t a unique trait to Designers. It doesn’t make you a designer, but it will make you really successful at what you do. A user-centered Marketer, a user-center[ed] Engineer, a user-center[ed] Product Manager, etc.”
Does design lie in intent? That is, if someone makes a decision that affects the user’s experience are they an experience designer or an experience “affect-er”?
Does it even matter?
I’m honestly not sure why this was the article I chose to start with—it seems like the semantics of design is maybe biting off more than I can chew at this super-newbie stage. However, the fact that members of non-UX teams affect the user’s experience is obvious.
Burka also talks about the design team’s responsibility to reach out to the other teams—that the best user experience will come from that communication and collaboration. Regardless of whose responsibility it is to begin that conversation, that’s an important point. He says, “The reality is that other people are making design decisions with or without you. Embrace them. They don’t make your job less valuable. They don’t make your job title less meaningful. Having more people who do design is additive, not competitive.”
What I like about this idea is that all work has a collaborative element to it and that teams are deeply connected to each other whether they embrace that or not. None of us exists in a vacuum.
What is a bit scary is that, from what I’ve heard from my mentors and other experienced UX practitioners, UX still has to defend itself in a lot of organizations. It seems like UXers in certain companies have to state their value and defend it on a regular basis.
So…what if I’m not good at my work? Or more deeply concerning, what if my work is not even important?
That brings me to the week’s next idea.
How Experienced UX Designers Manage Imposter Syndrome by Leigh Gamon
Ah, impostor syndrome.
It’s the embodiment of the aphorism “you are your own worst critic.” It can suck the life out of you if you let it. The author states that professionals at all different levels of UX background feel it—it ebbs and flows, but never truly disappears.
That’s a crummy thing to think about, but here’s my takeaway: if even the experienced professionals feel it, don’t give that voice too much of a seat at the table. Sure, listen to your gut, generally speaking. If you truly suspect you are wrong, reassess and find the right answer. And obviously, don’t come in as a Junior UX Designer and think you’re the first person to invent, say, empathy. Just don’t allow imposter syndrome creep in and take away your confidence when you are right, when you do have a good idea, when you did a good job with the tools that you had.
Here’s the paradox: the author states that the worst case scenario when you’re facing impostor syndrome is someone telling you you’re wrong. However, that humility will be a positive driving factor in your work. You will continue to work to improve—and then your answers will be more steady and sure.
I’d like to add that it falls in line with any criticism or feedback—if someone tells you you’re wrong, and you genuinely are wrong, that’s a gift. A shitty gift, but a gift nonetheless. Now you have something to work on: you’re welcome.
Now, we obviously want to know when we’re wrong, and there are different ways people can convey that to us. If you communicate only by email and never meet anyone and someone doesn’t know you, they are more likely to go above your head and talk with your boss if you are wrong. Now, if they know you and trust you, they are more likely to approach you directly and talk about their concerns and issues.
Gamon states, “Easily my favourite piece of advice I’ve received (and arguably my own personal mantra), is that relationships are the key to thriving in new situations.”
I’m going to place an emphatic YES on that one. Teamwork is insanely important. Ask any third grader (or writer of motivational posters).
Let’s talk about teamwork.
UX Design is Team Work by Ruben Bos
The author here is talking essentially about the shift from Waterfall to Agile method design. Rather than a project being handed off when one department is done with it, also known as “throwing it over the fence,” the entirety of a project’s lifespan is collaborative and iterative.
As a newbie to UX, that’s the only way I have learned. (Much like younger people who have only ever been alive with the internet. They have no true conception of what life was like without it—I’m part of the last generation to not have their entire awkward teenage years publicly displayed and immortalized on facebook, for which I’m very grateful… but I digress. Waterfall is to Agile what “no internet” is to internet. Or something. Give me a break, I’m new at this.)
Bos states that Agile is this idea that you don’t have to, and in fact can’t grasp the whole product in advance. Which is incredibly freeing.
One of the best things that happened to me in the first week (well…aside from the huge life change and the beginning of a new, exciting career) was a lunch conversation I had about teamwork with some of the developers at school on Friday.
Let’s stop for a second and back up to day 1: I had been struggling to explain UX to a different group of development (dev) students, and what I discovered was that the way I had been explaining UX to my non-industry friends and family didn’t work in this context. I had tried to explain it as UX being the central bridge, the link that translates between devs, users and clients. As in, UX is the glue that holds it all together. And I have to be honest with you, that sounded icky to say to a developer. Arrogant. Kind of dumb.
So what is my role then? I know UX is important. How do I talk about it?
By that Friday, when I had increased my knowledge of UX by approximately one billion percent, I explained it to my new lunch buddies like this: “I am a tool in your developing toolbox*; I get to help you make your product better.”
And here was the part that blew me away: one of the developers called dibs on me for future collaborative work. It honestly was the proudest moment of my week— I felt I had arrived at a place where I could speak coherently about what UX is and feel confident in my answer. Who knows, perhaps in a year I’ll discover I’m terribly wrong, but it’s the best metaphor I have right now and dammit, I’m proud of it.
And if I’m wrong, I can’t wait to find out why so I can get better at what I do.
*(Note to self: never start a sentence with “ I am a tool” in a professional setting again. Full stop).