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July 24, 2018

Embracing problems

Men Shoveling Chairs (Scupstoel)

I am sure that it’s the same for everybody. As careers unfold, we slowly gain a deeper understanding of the nature of work, and how we individually function.

Earlier this year, I had lunch with a colleague’s son. He was on winter break from his freshman year and he was curious about working in UX. I tried to give him my version of what it means to work in UX: Different aspects of the same discipline (IA, research, interaction) but more importantly, one has to fall in love with problems.

The problems I had in mind were the ones that the users are facing, the ones that we need to embrace as ours, and ultimately try to solve.

Today I realized that my definition was a bit too narrow.

Not this kind of problems

I got an email (newsletter) from Jared Spool today and this quote made me think a lot:

Practically every week, I find myself standing in front of design leaders saying the same thing: If at any point, I gave you the impression any of this would be easy, I apologize. It’s not.

And of course, as UX practitioners, we know this. We might not want to admit it, but we know.

Today I had an upsetting episode with a stakeholder that failed to realize the value that my team has to offer. He didn’t mean to offend me by any means, and he’s a brilliant professional. It’s just that I don’t think that he realized what could be gained by leading with UX. And that’s a problem for me.

My initial reaction in these situations is to feel threatened: My expertise vanishes into thin air when people simply have no clue about what I do. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Every designer has had, at some point in their career, to make a case for UX. What I realized today is that it is just another kind of problem that we, as designers, have to fall in love with.

Being proactive

A tool to visualize and maybe solve this challenge is Stephen Covey’s circle of concern and circle of influence. I know, it’s from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, don’t @ me.

These circles are concentric and the circle of concern contains the circle of influence. When we’re being reactive, we let our concerns take over and our (circle of) influence shrinks. On the other hand, when we’re proactive, we acknowledge the situation and try to grow our influence to limit our concern.

Being proactive in my situation would mean to understand where this stakeholder is coming from, what’s important for him, and how UX can help him be successful. It requires a lot of work and patience, but it is our responsibility as UX designers to not only advocate for our work, but for the whole discipline at large.

Featured image: Men Shoveling Chairs (Scupstoel), 1444-50. Circle of Rogier van der Weyden, possibly Vranke van der Stockt (Netherlandish, ca. 1420–1495) - (CC0 1.0)