I’ve finally started coming down off of my Interaction 11 high, but there is one talk, and the effects from it, that are still locked in my brain. Kaleem Khan’s Design for Evil: Ethical Design caused quite a stir in Boulder, as well as in me. Some people loved it, others hated it, but to me it just made one observation very clear, that a good amount of us may not be keeping it real with ourselves and our work. More specifically, we are not admitting, at least openly and with pride, that we do this work for money, and we do this work in a capitalistic, profit driven business environment. For me, this unveils a big problem in our community.
So let’s be real. The majority of UXers (whether in the US or elsewhere) get paid off of a company’s or an individual’s profit. In short, we do this for money. No matter how much we are trying to help others (which I believe we all are), and are being successful at helping others, we do this to eat, pay bills and survive. That does not mean that we are evil or greedy, and does not mean we are “selling out to the man”… it just means that we are trying to get by and do our best to live and provide a good life for ourselves and our families. The companies that we work for may or may not be doing the right things with their money, but we need to make a living right? Does this mean we shouldn’t work in certain industries? I would say No. Does this mean we shouldn’t work for certain companies? I would say that’s up to your own sense of morality. The problem comes in, I suppose, when we overconsume for the basis of status and self gratification… however, that is not the point of this post. The point of this post is to point out that we, as a UX community tend to think we are outside this fact (as so beautifully pointed out by keynote Bruce Sterling in his closing talk). We truly believe that we are only in design to help others, and more over we believe because of that fact, the main driver of our work couldn’t possibly be… gasp… money. But guess what… you are. One of the reasons, you are a UX designer is because you need the cash.
There are overreaching problems with ignoring and/or denying this fact. The first and most important is that by not recognizing the main reason why one is in “the biz” one is operating and making decisions based off of an ideal world vs. a world of fact. For example, a person might have convinced themselves that a group like marketing is evil because they want to increase sales, when in reality they want to increase sales both to get the newly designed product to the people that need it as well as to increase profit (which contributes directly to the UXer’s salary). Another example, someone gets frustrated working in UX because despite their attempts to help make the world a better place, the business and tech teams keep telling them that their design solutions are out of scope instead of focusing on how well the solution is solving the problem for the user. The biz and tech folks are not trying to hold the user back, but rather are trying to stay in budget in order to not over spend so that the company can continue to earn a profit and thus… you guessed it… pay everyone’s salary. If we remove ourselves from the reality of the situation, that we work for money, we fall prey to this frustration to the point of almost disillusionment, which puts UX on a whole different page than the businesses we serve, thus making our working environments ever more tensioned and strained. By not working in a realm of fact, we forget that UX is All About the Benjamins, and destroy our effectiveness inside businesses.
Thus, how do we solve this problem? Well, I believe that admittance is the first step. I think we need to really admit to ourselves that we do this for money and that we do this to help companies make money AS WELL AS to help others. Admitting does not mean that you are throwing your morals out the window, and it also does not mean that you no longer advocate for the user and do your best to help improve the things you design for them. It just means that you are keeping it real, and that you are designing and making things better by working in a world of reality vs. a world of fiction. By knowing and accepting the environment you are working in, you become a real force in helping to improve that environment, and who knows, maybe one day change that environment. We do discovery, research, etc. so that we know the context, users, and content that we are designing for, it is the same with your profession. Once you recognize the context, users, and content of your profession you are truly working within it and not around it. Then we can look at the things we decide to work on, know we are doing it for money, but create our boundaries around “selling out” and helping others. Otherwise we are just designing in a fairytale that doesn’t exist, and I, for one, and done waiting for Prince Charming to come and rescue me… I can get out of this tower on my own… just keeping it real.