Why I am skeptical of UX ‘Experts’ or Interaction Designers

What are the standards by which we can judge an interaction designer’s guesses vs more solid research-based information?  I was at least gratified to see that Cooper brought up this issue in “The Inmates are Running the Asylum.”  Cooper defends the profession by comparing the interaction designer to that of an x-ray technician.  But I disagree with the analogy.  In an x-ray, the doctor or technician can point out the injury to a lay person.  While we may not have noticed the dark smudge or infinitesimal line without their assistance, once it is pointed out to us, it is visible and obvious.  The same is not true of design flaws.

Jared SpoolWith regard to digital media specifically, oftentimes, someone who classifies themself as an ‘interaction designer’ or ‘UX expert’ is merely someone with some  experience in the field.  Because our profession is still in its infancy, it is quite easy for anyone to pass themselves off as an expert without being truly qualified.  I don’t doubt that experts in the field exist.  One I mentioned previously is Jared Spool, founder of Usability Interface Engineering.  The bulk of the man’s work is performing user research and testing and reporting back on the results of that testing.  It is quite obvious after hearing him speak that he is truly an expert in the bourgeoning field.

The issue I have, is with people who are not out in the field constantly conducting user research, but are basing their decisions seemingly on opinion or simply ‘guessing’ as Cooper capitulates.  Is there really a way to tell the difference?  I suppose it could be argued that it is unclear what actually qualifies anyone to be an expert at anything.  Cooper also mentions a finance professional who has a better understanding of when to buy and sell than the rest of us (though the recent financial crisis may put that theory to bed).  This expertise is based on experience, track record and sometimes partly a gut instinct.

Very bad web design

Very bad web design

I think the key difference between any of these other professions Cooper mentions and that of an interaction designer is the track record.  For us to take the advice and opinion of a self-proclaimed UX expert, they need to be able to point to a solid portfolio of sites or interactive applications whose development they have been involved in that have performed above or at least met expectations.  Until we set standards for this profession, I fear we’ll be subject to the whims of people who sound authoritative but may not be qualified to be making design decisions.

(A brief background to explain my skepticism. A lot of people in my field think they are the best at what they do.  They are not.  There are a lot of egos involved in web design and development and the push/pull between designing, developing and producing can be extremely frustrating.  It seems very arbitrary to me that I must take one person’s advice over another’s simply because they pass themselves off as an expert or are assumed to be one given their lofty title.  I think the key to a lot of this is that digital media is really a new field and we are unsure of how to assess someone’s qualifications.  I once had a boss who had virtually no digital media experience and yet at the design stage her opinion was paramount.  How can this be?  Sometimes there will be 3 people looking at a design and they have 3

Good design is invisible

Good design is invisible

different opinions.  That’s why I wholeheartedly agree with Cooper about the necessity of an interaction designer and user research.  The issue is finding one that is competent and has a solid track record to support their feedback.)

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