User experience, without the user’s experience? Such is the frustrating phenomenon sweeping the ranks of UX design everywhere.
When Spydergyrrl coined the term UX theatre in 2018, it was the call-out we’ve all been waiting for in the tech world. It refers to the worrying trend of companies paying lip service to “user-centred design” – without even consulting the user for research.
In short, it’s fake UX. And it’s time we did something about it.
How do we know if it’s fake UX?
It’s the exasperation that UX designers feel when they conduct proper research, only to have it discarded by company executives – because it doesn’t suit their expectations.
It’s when staff copy competitors, send out biased surveys or pretend to be users themselves – to cut corners and save time and/or money.
It’s when designers are asked to review the design right before the launch, only to find out there’s not enough time to implement any changes.
When companies have ‘UX’ teams or roles but do literally no user engagement of any kind. No user = no UX.
Sound familiar? That’s because it’s spreading like wildfire through a forest of Post-it notes – and even the tech giants are guilty of it.
Why is it happening?
UX as a discipline is still poorly defined and often misunderstood. It’s a vague term that many companies hijack for their own means.
- UX is still an undervalued practice
Now that “user-centred design” has gone mainstream, companies often appropriate UX terminology without understanding the value of user experience and how much work it takes to implement.
A good example is an underfunded UX department or having one ‘UX person’ in the company – who’s often an afterthought in the design process.
- Companies are thinking like users, but not including them
Let’s finally put an end to “thinking” like a user, and start giving the user the input they deserve.
It’s not enough to conduct internal surveys to avoid proper research.
After all, it’s difficult to find your users, communicate with them, arrange for them to use your product or service and gather data. But it’s vital.
- They believe “everyone is a UX designer”
Yes, it’s likely that a tech team is full of creative capabilities. But conflating creativity and UX research is a slippery slope.
Let’s say goodbye to asking graphic designers to have a go at “doing UX” when they don’t know how to gather data correctly. Hiring an experienced UX consultant will always lead to better results.
What’s the risk of ‘performing’ UX theatre?
Minimal investment in design, or UX malpractice, ultimately ends in poor results. The users’ needs aren’t met; instead, there are bad reviews, product failures and rollbacks.
Now, it might not seem like such a big deal that smaller start-ups are skimping on user research. But the problem is that larger companies and even government departments are culprits of roleplaying the user, too.
So, how can we avoid “pretend” UX?
If you suspect your company is committing UX theatre, it’s time to put on your UX-activist hat and call it out. Campaign for decisions to be grounded in proper research instead of opinions.
Show them that the team isn’t the user, and why. Instead, propose a proper methodology where users can validate results.
After all, investing in User Experience now – means reaping the benefits further down the line.
Only by speaking out can we influence the culture and give users what they truly need.