May 16, 2016

UX Without Borders

A borderless yet seamless UX field. Is that a dream, or "is it something worse"? Actually, it's reality,  happening right now, among and by those who are concerned less with labeling themselves and others ("designer", "quant. geek", "ethnographer", "design integrator"), and more with pushing against the artificial borders, barriers, and preconceptions in  UX  that we all have been complicit in preserving even as the field keeps out-growing them and out-distancing them.

F. Chimero says it better:
For a long time, I perceived my practice’s sprawl as a defect—evidence of an itchy mind or a fear of commitment—but I am starting to learn that a disadvantage can turn into an advantage with a change of venue. The ability to cross borders is an asset....These borderlands are the best place for a designer like me, and maybe like you, because the borderlands are where things connect. If you’re in the borderlands, your different tongues, your scattered thoughts, your lack of identification with a group, and all the things that used to be thought of as drawbacks in a specialist enclave become the hardened armor of a shrewd generalist in the borderlands.

Designing in the Borderlands”, by Frank Chimero, is about design, but the ideas behind it applies to all UX, or anything that happens at the "seams" of disciplines, particularly research! Much like the concept of disciplinary silos, the practice of design is full of artificial and unproductive barriers that designers themselves have erected (with the silent or vocal support of non-designers). The author insists (correctly, I think) that the most inspiring, let alone productive, design happens in the borderlands, at the seams, where these different media and disciplines (dis)connect. That could be the borders between physical and digital media, text vs images, responsive vs. non-responsive design, or larger and more unproductive borders, such as those between design & UI, or UX vs UI, and the list goes on, and on.

Particularly within UX research, I keep encountering such artificial borders and barriers in people's thinking (both insiders and outsiders to UX), such as quant vs qual research: stupidest interview Q: "are you" an [stats person, ethnographer, X]? The question isn't whether somebody "is" an X type of researcher, but whether they have the skills to use a method and ability to learn from their practice of each method. Nobody should have a a life-long badge of "being" anything, let alone an ethnographer, which is an evolving practice in UX.
So, next time you interview (me or anybody who can think over and above such silly barriers), ask about T-shaped experiences, try and spend an extra minute to figure out whether I can learn fast and think forward vs. what I "am"or have been by training or some other static designation.  UX is an evolving field, and to innovate you need to know how to think across, above and over disciplines and silly  designations, so your questions should be innovative and push against borders set up by hiring managers and academic courses.