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The deadly cult of UX outputs

The deadly cult of UX outputs

The agency executive presents the personas to the client. There are three personas in total, covering different types of users with their varying needs, behaviours and context.  The persona documents are beautifully presented, each replete with a picture of a person who is above–average–looking for their age, with almost–perfect teeth representing the user type.

Where does the value lie in the documents?

The ambitious designer illustrates their wireframes to the product owner. They’ve been carefully embedded into a prototyping tool, which offers modest interactive elements, allowing people to click on elements on each page, and between pages.  It outlines how the key pages in the digital product will be structured, giving a clear sense of where imagery, key messages, calls to action and navigation will be positioned.

Where does the value lie in the suite of wireframes?

The UX professional runs a workshop with a client’s team.

Armed with post–it notes and stickies they get to work envisioning their product.  Ninety minutes later, the session finishes, with the project team collecting their stickies and notes and heading back to the office to start to make sense of them.

Where does the value of the workshop lie?

In each case the value of what is produced lies neither in its shininess nor its production quality, but in its ability to convey important truths, and by extension solve problems.

This is not merely a point of pedantry.  Rather it gets to the heart of what UX is and by extension, what it isn’t.

Beautifully produced persona documents, attractive wireframes and energic workshops are by their nature compelling and persuasive.  Subsequently we need to be very careful how we use them and what we understand them to be.

Identifying an informed research–driven persona from one which is the figment of someone’s imagination isn’t straightforward.  Considering how wireframes will work in the real world, for real users, trying to get real stuff done is impossible to tell in the absence of testing or primary user insight.  Workshops to explore how users feel and how digital products can help work only when they are peppered and informed with empirical evidence to guide discussion, when there are clear constraints and there is no artificially prescribed outcome.

I wonder if as a profession, have we forgotten that everything we produce between project conception and launch is a means to an end, not an end in itself.  And thus, no value lies in the actual artefacts or methods regardless of their shiny or attractive veneer.

It lies entirely and exclusively in their ability to focus the minds of project teams on the things which are true and important.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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