Posts Tagged ‘ux’


Sunday, February 16th, 2014
CSSquirrel #108: Unicorny

Unicorn has become something of a loaded term, especially when “UX” joins forces with it, creating a web design Ubermensch that rivals the Jackalopian ‘designelopers’ of yore.

For me, the UX Unicorn has been the phrase used to refer to a rare combination of coding, design, and UX skills that somehow creates a generalist whom also possesses deep knowledge in each of these fields, a sort of super expert that the rest of us can only look at with sunglasses and despair.

In short, its a myth. It’s up there with “social media expert”, “seo expert”, and “real estate salesman” on the list of job titles that seem to attract the kind of people that aren’t afraid to sell you a jar of snake piss, claim it’s actually a curative tonic devised originally by Solomon, complete with instructions to rub it into your scalp nightly to cure your psoriasis and raise your IQ by 20 points.

So we’re clear: I’m not harping on the field of UX, and legitimate practitioners of that science. I am, in fact, down with the UX, do my best to learn its ways, and have a coworker I hold in high esteem whom is entirely embedded deep in that field of research.

But when it comes to self-declared snooty “unicorns”, there’s been a high noise to signal ratio that is muddying up the airwaves.

Along with Dylan Wilbanks, who is a real life person in the UX field, I had some misgivings about the Unicorn Institute that’s been making the rounds with its Kickstarter Campaign. We took to our mighty podcast, Squirrel and Moose, to discuss the whole “UX Unicorn” mythos in full detail on not only one, but two long episodes.

We had feels. We had opinions.

Opinions I stand by.

…but, we just might have had an incorrect understanding of the Unicorn Institute’s true nature, created in part by a sparsity of details on the Unicorn Institute’s site at the time of our recording, and in part due to a lack of… well… asking those involved directly.

My high school journalism teacher would be mortified. My apologies, Ms. Bickley.

Last week, none other than Jared Spool himself contacted Dylan and I, mentioned that he’d listened to our podcasts about the topic, and asked if he could come onto our next episode to talk about the project.

After I finished dancing around and squeeing like a fanboi at a [insert applicable current Disney teen heartthrob here] concert, I of course said “YES PLEASE”.

What resulted was the longest podcast in Squoose history, where Spool corrected our misunderstandings and offered some deep, detailed information about what the Unicorn Institute, actually called the Center Centre, really is.

Short version: It’s amazing. A trade school for UX professionals that’s built in a fashion entirely different from any other institution of higher learning that I’ve seen.

I’m jealous of those entering the field in the years ahead, to have an institution like this to attend. They didn’t have them in my day.

It clocks in at over an hour, but I think everyone should take the time to listen to Jared’s discussion about the genesis of the Unicorn Institute, and the research and thought that went behind it. I learned a lot talking with him.

Imagine how much more you’d learn actually attending it.

If you like what he says, please consider taking the time to back the institute on Kickstarter. They’ve got five days left, and the hope is that they do well enough with the Kickstarter to offer scholarships for those that couldn’t normally afford an opportunity like this.

I still don’t believe in the UX Unicorn, instead seeing us all as variations of Dylan’s chimeras. But the Unicorn Institute isn’t trying to make those unicorns. They’re making something different.

And I am a big fan of that.

The Folly of Tool Obsession

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
CSSquirrel #103: The Folly of Tool Obsession

The well-dressed and well spoken Aarron Walter stars in today’s comic as witness to the tragic results of the Squirrel’s folly. The Frankenpersona, a vile result of the obsession over the use UX tools over the actual needs of the users, may not be marching down the hallways of your web team’s studio, but I’m sure you’ve seen similar ugly beasties in your time in the trenches.

I know I have.

I’m not sure if employees of Mailchimp are expected to produce newsletters on a regular basis as a part of their job, but Aarron does. Issue 8 of his On My Mind newsletter got the the following review from his fellow Mailchimper Jason Beaird:

Everyone who works in UX should read @aarron’s latest “On My Mind” newsletter.

Although he might be subject to a certain amount of coworker bias, I’m going to back up what he said. Go read it.

Honestly, I don’t have a lot of additional insight to add other than the fact that I’ve seen exactly what he’s talking about: Team members that become obsessed with tools and processes to the detriment of the project and its end users. I’ve become obsessed like that. It never ends well.

This doesn’t extend just to UX Design. Heck, it doesn’t just extend to web professionals. It extends to pretty much anything.

Tools are great. Without them we’d probably still be fighting bears in hand-to-hand combat and living on a diet of easy-to-catch animals and the less troublesome plants, like sloths and sunflowers.

But tool obsession is just nuts. The means don’t justify the ends just because the means use the coolest new hip technique. In the end, a product has to stand on how it works for the users. And to make those great products, we need to remember that our workflow needs to be flexible. We should accept common sense or acknowledge better ideas when they appear. Even if it’s from teammates who aren’t using our favorite process.

He uses the story of Narcissus as a metaphor about the impact of a blind obsession with tools, referencing how the mythical youth became so enamored by his reflection (his tools, if you will) that he became its servant, numb to the actual people around him in service of his own mirrored image.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Aarron’s article that I think really touches to the core of what he’s saying.

As our tools have evolved, so too have our teams, dividing into specializations that help us build for many platforms, create better content, and design more usable experiences. But as we divide, we understand one another less, causing us to lose our empathy for the challenges of the designer or developer we work with. When we no longer feel the pain of our peers, we stop listening to their recommendations and ignore the limitations they face. That’s how political unrest arises in teams, and the loser in those battles is always the user.