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July, 2011:

Better Without Influence? Processing the Inputs

Occasionally I’m struck by a lightning-quick thought that I was better at what I do… this whole anticipating and responding to experiences as simply and logically as i can thing… before I started overloading myself with channels upon channels of industry-specific information. I resisted for a long time; partly because I just didn’t realize how extensive our industry network had become, and partly because I was too caught up in “doing” to be able to spend much time “reading” about what i “should” do.

I say occasionally, because most often I find the things that I read extremely valuable and often helpful. I’ve definitely read my share of books on how I should do it over the years. I have a good idea of how I do what I do and I can always learn from others. Even if it’s just small tweaks in my process and cognitive approach, those small tweaks continuously make me better. Constantly bettering myself results in better end-results.

The challenge I run into lies in the fact that there’s so much information and so much of it conflicts. Some of what I observe conflicts with what I read. Some of what I’ve done that has yielded huge positive results conflicts with what I’ve read I’m supposed to do, even from people that are “heroes and mentors” to me. The social streams (notably twitter) have even allowed me to witness debates within UX circles between some of the people I consider thought leaders in UX. So how do I resolve this?

Mostly, I go with what makes sense to me, from my research. I go with what makes sense from observation and what my analytics are telling me. Like so much of what I do, meaning changes when applied to different situations. What makes sense for a user in the context of an automobile dealer website doesn’t hold true in an oil company’s investor relations site.

I’ve come to view the books, the articles, the tweets, the streams, the posts, the feeds… all as input into a massive decision tree in the storage lockers of my head. None of that input, by itself, provides an answer. There’s not a math to experience design. There’s no magic bullet. There’s no “if x, then y.” It’s a massively amorphous and complex system of thoughtful, intelligent scenarios designed to enhance the experience for as many people as possible. That also makes it imperfect, and ever-changing. Users change. Their needs change. There’s always a need to evolve the experience.

I often ask the question of ux professionals who they pay the most attention to… who do they define as a leader or leaders in the ux profession? The answers are never the same. They range from “no one” to rattling off every person in UX with 15+ years of experience, to a litany of single-name responses. The reason for this is simple. There’s a ton of brilliance in our field. There are some beacons that shine brighter than others. I would always give the same advice to anyone who would listen: Listen to those people, your heroes and mentors. They are the progenitors of what we do. But always temper your knowledge with what you experience and observe first-hand. Make your decisions and recommendations not based on knowledge alone, but based on your ability to process what you’ve read and been told as a factor combined with what you see, what your users tell you, and what you feel you should do.

I’m curious what others think, and if they feel this same conflict, how they resolve it for themselves.