31 May 2011
Design Practice

I don't care about User Experience

A few months ago I tweeted that we no longer needed to sell User Experience and our job was now to focus on delivering good user experiences. A few people asked me to expand on my thinking, so this quick post is in reference to that.

I've been running a User Experience Agency now for nearly six years. When we started almost nobody I spoke to had heard of the term user experience, let alone understood what a user experience consultancy did. There were a handful of agencies offering "UX services" in the UK, but most were really usability companies. As such we rarely, if ever, came up against other agencies offering a similar service to our own. So I spent the first 3-4 years at Clearleft explaining to everybody who would listen what User Experience was and why it mattered. I had to justify why we could't jump straight into design and why we needed to spend weeks planning out the user interface. After all, no other agencies wanted to waste time doing "wireframing", so could't we just skip that part.

It was both exciting and frustrating in equal measure. Exciting, when I saw the lightbulbs go on over people's heads, as I explained how many of the problems they faced could be mitigated with some basic research and planning. Frustrating when I could't change people's outlook though the logic of my arguments and strength of will alone. I suspect many of you have shared this frustration with me on more than one occasion. As such I have to thank many of our earlier clients for taking an approach which was both new and somewhat alien to them.

Over the last 2 years I've seen a dramatic change in the marketplace. First off, people now "get" what user experience is. And I don't just mean designers and developers. I can't remember the last time I had to explain to a potential client what user experience was and why it differed to others peoples approach. These days pretty much all of our prospective clients understand what user experience is and appreciate its importance.

The early part of this transition actually took me by surprise, as I'd find myself launching into my "UX is like Architecture" spiel without realising the person on the end of the phone already got it. These days, most of my time is spent explaining the nuances of our approach to UX and how it differs, often in incredibly subtle ways, to the competition. At times I miss being the "Only UX in the Village" In retrospect that point of differentiation was actually quite easy, and helped define our character as an agency. However that no longer matters anymore.

These days we've stopped selling UX and started simply doing it.

Sure, some agencies or individuals haven't quite reached that inflexion point yet, but I can tell you that it's on the way. Demand is far outstripping supply, so if you're not there yet, you soon will be. User Experience is no longer a point of difference, it's just the way all good websites are built these days.

As such I'm bought to mind Jeff Veen's comments when he said "I don't care about accessibility." Similarly I'm starting to care less and less about User Experience, not because it isn't important, but because it's the natural output of the way all good design and development agencies work and think.

Of course there are still challenges ahead, but I think the challenges are related to craft and mastery rather than evangelism.