My fellow CMU alumnus Whitney Hess has stirred up a lot of Twitter traffic over the weekend with her post You’re not a user experience designer if… I think she has taken too hard a stance on many of her ten points.
You don’t talk to users.
I freely admit that there have been projects for which I have not talked to users. I have performed other types of research and spoken with domain experts. In fact, there was one customer in particular that would not allow me to meet with actual users. They provided me with all of the information I requested. No, it wasn’t an ideal situation. Yes, I would have preferred direct contact with users. That did not, however, keep me from doing good work and delivering a solid product.
You can’t identify your target audience.
Whitney claims that a product can’t be designed for everyone. I don’t buy that. There are thousands of products that we use on a daily basis that are intended to be used by anyone and everyone. A mobile phone is a general-use product. A can opener is a general use product. That’s not to say that you couldn’t design a can opener for a specific user group. Oxo is famous for designing kitchen utensils for arthritis sufferers that turned out to be good for everyone. That goes to show that there are benefits to designing products for specific users. That doesn’t, however, mean that there has to be a set of specific personas developed for a product to be successful. Apple’s products are proof of that.
You make design decisions based on your personal preferences.
The example she gives is a rather ridiculous one. Checkboxes and radio buttons have distinctly different functions, so personal preference doesn’t enter into the equation. Personal preference very often influences my decisions, however. As a trained designer, my personal preferences are based on years of experience and inspiration. You might say designers are better at designing because their personal preferences are more refined than the average person. Again, this doesn’t mean that I only base decisions on personal preference, but aesthetic decisions especially are heavily influenced by my own preference, and they should be.
I’ve only addressed a few claims that immediately jumped out at me when I read through Whitney’s post. For a very thorough and well-reasoned response, I highly recommend Uday Gajendar’s Being a designer.