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Nadya Primak
Nadya Primak

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UX Meetings: You're (probably) doing it wrong

As a UI Developer, I have a pretty unique skillset where I bridge the gap between designers and developers. As a multipotentialite I have always been drawn to the intersections between different disciplines, so it seemed natural enough after graduating with a degree in Visual Arts with a Concentration in Computer Science and proceeding to get a Interaction Design Certification as well as teaching myself Javascript that I ought to seek out a company where this interplay of skills would be useful.

Unfortunately, what I have found time and time again in many different companies is that, while the job description may indicate a desire for a developer who is more familiar with UX concepts, the vast majority of the work is still that of a typical front end developer. Sure, one a month you might get a ticket that involves a bit of wire-framing or be asked your opinion about where a drop down menu ought to be placed once in a while, but no matter how many times you insist that you need proper user research or at least a chance to interview a few people before drawing serious conclusions about what a user interface should look like, the company either refuses to give you the resources or flat out denies the importance of the work.

This is what leads me to the main theme of this post, UX meetings. That is just one term for them. Sometimes UX meetings don't even have the worst UX in the name, but any time decision making about user interface elements is happening in a meeting, you can pretty much call it a UX meeting. I've been in many such meetings, and sadly there are some trends I have seen that are alarming at best and devastating at worst.

One of these trends is giving the same weight to everyone's opinions in the room. This stems from a common mistake among developers and sometimes management, perceiving user experience as subjective. The user experience of a website is not comparable to a modern artwork in any way shape or form. It is not something where one person can say "it's great" and another person can say "I hate this" and both people can be correct because its just their opinion. This may seem like an obvious point, in fact you may be thinking "well of course, that is why UX research is a discipline."

While yes, this may seem obvious, I have lost count of the number of times these meetings devolve into every developer wanting to have their say about what they think the user experience should be. You can compare it to photography... since the invention of Instagram and the mobile phone camera everyone calls themselves a photographer but few actually know the art of composition, framing, color, and the rest of the principles and techniques to make someone a true professional in the field.

The same thing applies to user experience, because everyone is a user. Every developer has used a website and every developer has an opinion about what they like and don't like about the interface. This is especially dangerous in companies that have a superhero developer in their midst, who people often allow to make decisions either because they don't want to fight with them or because they simply don't care enough to bother. Some of the UX decisions may even seem inconsequential and not worth fighting over, like the type of icon to use on a widget or the size of an input field that only appears in certain edge cases. Trust me, its a slippery slope and once these kinds of decisions are made by developers without any UX experience you might find that within a few months they are dictating the entire design.

Obviously I wouldn't be writing this article if I didn't experience this phenomenon myself. The problem is, I can't fix it on my own. Developers have to be humble enough not to self appoint as user experience experts because they have used interfaces before. Product owners and managers have to put their foot down against superhero developers who won't go down without a fight. If these things don't happen, user experience will continue to be treated in many circles as a subjective discipline where anybody who has user an interface can throw our their opinion, damn the research to the contrary, and have those opinions added to an application that will inevitably turn out to be terrible.

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