The Mountain on the Other Side of the Molehill

If these last few years have been about making the case for user experience design outside of the tech industry -- where it’s been through the crucible and proven its value -- to public service, higher-ed, not-for-profits, and even government, then the next few years will be about the refinement of our practice and how to capitalize on our investments in the user experience.

It’s hard to argue against the role service and user experience design plays in the success of a thing, that even slow-to-change organizations -- like libraries, traditionally -- are reallocating resources to create design teams where there weren’t before.

For many there is still an uphill battle to just get the research done: budgets and talent are so constrained where the margin for error is too small to risk shifting the resources elsewhere, let alone changing the workflow, which is often the result on an organization who embraces design thinking more than superficially.

But - those who summit that hill will find a mountain, a Cassandra, on the slopes of which even mature experience design teams predict behavior their organizations ignore.

We face an egregious point of failure on the far side of getting the research done where we need to figure out what to do with it. At best, failure to turn our investment in UX into practical return lowers the esteem of UX at work; at worst, it's grounds to dissolve the practice entirely.

If Coral Sheldon-Hess’s CMMI-based model of UX Maturity were a map, then Mount Cassandra and its Whispering Fog are right in the middle.

Here, we find at least partially dedicated design folk — where some portion of their actual job description is in performing this research — who work parallel to but not intersecting with the decision-making process, where the user experience is a superficial concern of leadership even though having their own UX department is good PR — and user data doesn’t dictate most decision-making.

Years ago, when Coral first published this and I started using it as a visual, I imagined it as a ladder. It requires effort to climb but the trajectory is up. Now that we have more examples of two- or three-year investments in UX departments, I’m thinking about higher-ed libraries in particular, I think this model is more accurately depicted as a quest, from which failure isn’t just a setback but can mean the end of our heroes’ journey.

So, why is it we are sometimes trapped on the slope?

Thank you so much for reading. I appreciate your time. If you can, and you know someone who would like this kind of design thinking -- design musing, even -- take a moment to forward this email on. You can also share this on Twitter or Facebook. That would be super kind!

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- Michael