Early in my career, for a very long time I wasn’t entirely confident about my process. Being a newbie, I was under impression that I’d be doing myself a disservice if I wasn’t practicing how they do design at Google or whatever company we were looking up to at the time.
So I dived into universally recognized UX books – some of them even considered bibles – hoping I would learn how my most successful peers handle the business. But I consistently felt puzzled by abstract methods I’d had no idea what to do with.
In admittedly challenging effort to comprehensively cover such a complex field, the authors introduced me to concepts such as Focus Groups, Market Segmentation or Personas that felt so distant from my daily job that I wouldn’t know how to apply even if they held a gun pointed at me. And not only these specific techniques sounded foreign, even the scenes of people garnishing office walls in colorful sticky notes – an image iconic for UX design – never stuck with me. But that is for another story.
Years passed, I changed jobs, worked in various domains and different teams, my understanding of UX design matured, yet I still couldn’t click with the most of the essential reads for UX designers, how community claims.
At some point I started wondering why is my experience so different from the theory that likely also originates from the authors’ experience. Exploring their background have lead me to realization that most famous UX books come from (a) Academics trying to understand human behavior and (b) Practitioners whose reputation was built on years of working for large organizations, where they developed and applied distinct methods to address the issues specific to that business.
So when they translated their experience into books, they were describing how they solved company and domain-specific problems. That, of course, is not an issue in itself, unless you sell it as general UX advice. It took me years of experience to understand that when they instruct “This is how you should do X…”, we should read it as “This is what worked for us in this specific domain, with a team this big, trying to do that…”. In other words, what works for a 1000 people enterprise organization, doesn’t always apply to a 10 people company, let alone the UX design generally.
That is what skewed the picture for me for such a long time. Most tech companies today count less than 50 people and usually only a handful of designers. In such a setting, a designer’s role is more general and work ships more liberally. We will rarely employ complex operations to validate every design decision but mostly operate in a trial and error routine.
Yet most of the time, the advice is coming from people with a very different background than ours. As a consequence, so many specific practices considered essential in the books feel irrelevant and out of touch with reality. It’s not that the books are bad per se, or that the techniques are somehow broken, it’s just not how most of us do things every day.