UX isn’t Art! Or is it?
I just returned from the Interaction 14 conference in Amsterdam, and I’ve been reflecting on the information I learned there. I was honored to be facilitating a full day workshop, Interaction Design Beyond the Wireframe, at the conference. I love and hate facilitating this particular workshop. I love it because I believe in the content and approach, and it’s great to see this affect other designers lives. I hate it because sometimes it feels as if the concepts are old and no longer useful. But, after last Wednesday’s workshop event I realized that this information is still very much useful. Also, as I was watching the participants go through the activities I was reminded of a question that fellow UXer, and friend, Nathan Gao asked me some months ago. He said to me “Do you ever look back on the work you did, and just hate it?”. “What do you mean?”, I asked. “Well I mean now that you have learned a lot more, and you have done a lot more, do you ever look back and realize that the work you did was ugly, not technologically as advanced as it could be… stuff like that?” I paused and thought about this for a moment and responded “Honestly, no. And let me tell you why.”
In this world of UX and Interaction Design, we so often view our work as a work of art. We think of it as a blend of science and art, reflecting both best practices as well as internal purpose, aesthetic, and opinion. It was even mentioned during IxD 14 that we are both science based and art based. I always thought it was interesting to view our work this way… interesting and problematic.
The issue that arises when we think of ourselves as artists, is that we think of our work as art, and this causes pain points. First, we judge and critique our work as art. We judge the “look” of the deliverables, and the savviness of the interaction. We judge the emotional response invoked by the deliverable or the sketch or the prototype or whatever it is we, the interaction designer, provides.
But, at least from my point of view, my solution, which is reflected in, but not defined as, what I deliver, has nothing to do with art, unless I am actually designing the visual look and feel (which I personally don’t do). Strictly speaking of non visual design deliverables then, I see no art reflected in them. Everything that I have included in them is based on factual evidence of either user need, business need or technological constraints. If a user needs a way to view search results by date… I add a sorting control. If they need to find a way to company contact information… I add a contact us link. I also don’t view my wireframes as the final layout and product, I view them as information design. I.e. their purpose is to inform the interface by showcasing information relationships and priorities. Basically I don’t care about how it looks in the end, just that the right information and controls are present. Therefore, nothing I add in my work is based off my own opinion or internal narrative, so I don’t judge my work as art.
Going with this argument then, judging our work as art, means that we must be, in same ways, adding our own opinions and narrative to our work. And, if we are doing that, then we aren’t doing user experience design or interaction design, we are doing art. So the biggest problem with thinking of ourselves as artists is that we think of our work as art and add our own opinions and narrative to it as opposed to keeping it strictly about upholding user needs and business needs.
In order to avoid this problem, then, and to create work that is representative of our user needs, business needs and technology constraints, I believe we need to take the art point of view away for a minute. I KNOW this is going to cause a tear in the universe, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about and wanted to write about for some time.
So, I implore you dear readers to help me to see if I am on the right path with this thinking, completely mad with this thinking, correct with this thinking, or somewhere in between. Is there a cross over between Art and our UX and IxD deliverables (sans visual design), and if so, where is it?