A couple of months ago I wrote a post entitled Reason #3 Why UX Designers are like Therapists. As usual, I shared the post through Twitter and Facebook. One of my best friends, whom I lived with while in Texas, commented… half joking, mostly serious with this quote “because you’re always trying to analyse those around you! ‘why do you like this site?’ ‘why do the security questions/pictures make you feel secure?’ ‘where’s the place you would look for X? how about Y?’ the list goes on and on… the trials and tribulations of being your roommate and trying to use websites!”
Of course, her comments inspired reason number 4. As a UX Designer, I’m constantly studying those around me. Whether they are using something I designed or not (mostly not), I’m always looking to see how they are using it and always questioning how their experience can be better.
Having been friends with a therapist for a long time, I realized that we have the same methods of informal discovery. He wants to learn about people and thus is constantly asking about their thinking and feeling patterns. I, in comparison, want to learn about the experience of using a product, website, application and thus am constantly asking about those thought and feeling patterns.
Maybe, as designers, we take it too far some times, but, we just can’t help it right?! I just NEED to know why something invoked a response in the user. It’s important for me to understand how everything is connected just like therapists and their needs to know about how we think and feel. Perhaps though I could calm down a little… after all I think I drove my friend over the edge when she said “hi. my name’s cristina and i’ve lived with a design-aholic”… I can’t deny that I have a problem, but if you’re a UXer I’m sure you have the same disease :-).
In the past I’ve written a couple of posts that tie together the roles of UX Designers and Therapists. You can read How User Experience Designers are like Therapists and Another Way that UX Designers are Like Therapists to see these previous posts. So, imagine my joy when I was watching super UXer Whitney Hess on the Big Web Show and she said “A lot of times, I become more like a therapist.”. Yes! Whitney was right on with my thinking, and I’m sure she’s not the only one. You can check out Whitney’s whole interview here, and be sure to check out minute 25 around second 40 to see what I’m referring to.
Whitney calls herself “like a therapist” in relation to the idea that most of the time we as UX designers are brought on to a project to do something tactical. For example, marketing wants a landing page or product management wants a new microsite. As a great UX Designer you wouldn’t simply just start designing the item that they are seeking, but you would question the needs and wants behind the request and really try to understand what solution makes sense in regards to these needs and wants. In this way of questioning and probing, you are bringing the client/business person along with you through the logic and reasoning. You are then helping to make clear to both of you the real need that they have. After making the need clear, you both can work on the solution. Thus as a UXD you are more of a facilitator of need discovery and solutions as opposed to a solution creator or someone that just gets the work done.
In therapy, a therapist will not often have you come in and talk for 5 minutes then say “you are a high anxiety person, and this is the solution to what ails you”. If they do, you need to find a new therapist. Instead, what a good therapist will do, is talk with you through the twists and turns in your life. They are helping you to see your problem yourself, and then they ensure that it is you who is the first to say out loud what it is that ails you. This is the therapist’s problem & needs discovery part. So, after talking with the therapist and them asking you the right questions, you would be the one to say “you know what maybe I’m just an anxious person.” From there, the therapist will help you to facilitate the solution to your problem. But the important part is that they brought you along with them and by doing so have ingrained in you their thoughts and line of questioning, at least to some extent. When you leave therapy, you should not only have a better understanding of yourself, but a better understanding of internal reflection and the ability to look inward to improve what comes out.
Being a great UXD is no different. By bringing our clients along with us in the problem discovery phase we are helping them to look inside of their business and really understand what their needs are. We are also helping them to be able to do so without having us there. We are leaving a piece of our knowledge with them, thereby improving there business both internally and externally. From there we work with them to facilitate a solution to their need. When the project is finished, the client should have a better understanding of their business and the ability to look inward towards it instead of looking outward only (an example of looking outward for solutions is a business person saying, so and so has a twitter account so should we). By helping our clients and business partners to become more aware of themselves, we are ensuring that the experiences that are created are more user focused… which is what it all comes back to.