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There is No “I” in UX

April 30, 2013 / By AIGA Nebraska

This guest post is written by Matt Moore, Manager of Web Design & Development at Mutual of Omaha.

Seems obvious, right? UX isn’t just design. UX is a mindset. UX is culture. UX is everyone’s business. A team of one can’t do it alone.

UX is Change Leadership

Concepts like innovation, empowering people and loosening control over process are necessary elements of change leadership. Leadership should not be confused with management. In her article on UX Leadership, Kim Goodwin says, “Leaders are people who influence others to accomplish shared goals.” She continues, “Managers are assigned; leaders emerge.”

Look at any list of qualities found in strong leaders and you’ll see traits like creativity, intuition, vision and empathy. These traits appeal to designers. You’ll also find qualities like courage, humility and focus. But, the most important may be strong communication skills – the ability to inspire and engage others, as well as be an exceptional listener. Leaders cultivate collaboration, make authentic connections and solve problems. They don’t reserve empathy for users only, but also for colleagues and business partners. And empathy, like design, is understood better and becomes more effective with practice.

My 3 ½-year old son is older than Ethan Marcotte’s game-changing article on responsive web design. Smartphones and tablets are replacing (or have already replaced) the traditional screen sizes for which we used to design. Care to make a prediction about how design will look in five years? Neither do I. Due to the increasing speed in growth and adoption of mobile technology, UX must be dynamic in nature and driven by change. And change requires leadership.

They Don’t Teach You This Stuff in School

Though I’m over 10 years into my career, my attaché case of choice is a backpack. I didn’t think much about it when I started wearing it to the office, but it serves as a helpful reminder – never stop learning. To learn is to be vulnerable and human. Learning is also one of the Metaskills. Designers should continually look for challenges, to develop new skills and to adapt. As UX design continues to evolve, adaptability is one of the best skills a designer can have.

Community

Those I’ve connected with best, we’ve learned from each other. The design community provides an abundance of opportunities to connect, share and learn. Last year, I made it a priority to actively participate in the local conversation around design and UX. It was the most important and fulfilling choice I’ve made as a design professional. The energy, support, friendships and opportunities the design community provides are unmatched. Together, we can collaborate, grow and lead change by building on each other’s skill sets and progressively influencing UX design locally – and beyond.

Push Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Community doesn’t have to be limited to other designers. Until businesses and clients understand the value of UX, design may not have a seat at the strategy table. We can improve as designers by better understanding the businesses, products and users we support; by better understanding our non-design colleagues and business partners. It can also help make the business case for design and UX. The outcome will be true partnerships built on a foundation of trust, quality and collaboration.

Oh, the Humanity

We design for people. That will never change. But, we can design better by having conversations with the people for which we’re designing.

Empathy

Empathy and design are a package deal. We all know empathy is essential to effective UX design. Here’s a lesson in empathy and method designing.

Personas

Do you use design personas? Are they based on user research? If not, they won’t be effective. You may as well name each persona Lorne (or Laura) Ipsum. Even proto-personas require input from multiple perspectives and refinement through validating their accuracy. Personas are all about behavior. Understanding behavior and the motivations behind it leads to improved design.

User Testing

As designers, we value quality over quantity. It makes sense to combine qualitative insights uncovered through user testing with quantitative data like web analytics to make informed design decisions. If you feel it’s too early to conduct a user test, it’s probably the perfect time to do it. Effective results will surface with feedback from just a few participants.

UX Starts with You

It’s nearly impossible to create groundbreaking, innovative design and products on your own. UX requires leadership, collaboration, continuing education, and not only a focus on the audience you’re designing for, but a first-hand understanding of what they experience when interacting with design. It begins with you. And there’s no better time to start than right now.

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