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UX is snake-oil bullshit

There, I said it. I feel better already. There are people in the world who’ll tell you that the most important thing in the world is UX, that if your software isn’t UX-compliant it isn’t worth shit. Here’s why that’s wrong.

Platitudes

“Consider the user.” “The user is king.” Yeah? Well why do you name your vaunted “user” after a fucking drug addict? You’re lying, because you know no other life. The user is the poor schmuck that you’re trying to push your apps on, just like a crack dealer. Only of course you don’t call it “crack dealing”, you call it “freemium” and act like it’s some kind of fucking service to let your crackheads – sorry, users – “get familiar” with the product before you start bleeding their wallets.

Besides, what does it even mean? Consider the user. I looked at my software, and I think users should be grateful that I let them even fucking touch the app store page with their filthy uneducated hands. There, I’ve “considered” the cretins, so I’m doing UX right am I?

The only examples are bad examples

Ever seen a UX talk at a software dev conference? I’d be surprised if you haven’t, because these vultures who call themselves “UX consultants” are actually professional speakers who love nothing better than to tell us hard-working developers how we do everything wrong. You’ll be able to spot them if you’re at a conference, they’re the people with the designer jeans and the designer wine glasses and the fucking designer nostril hair. They’ll open their talk with some rant about how the starving children in Africa can wait for help until someone’s fixed the way the fucking tap works in the shower of their six-star hotel room they were in when they gave the same talk in Dubai or some other place us lowlife software engineers can’t afford to visit. You’ll get the impression that we’re the Morlocks, and this fucking Eloi has deigned to come down from the surface to remind us how much better life is up there, and only wants £2000+expenses to do it.

And then what’s the talk about? It’s a series of examples of what they say is really bad UX, that we’re supposed to sit there and laugh at with them? Fuck that shit. Some colleague of mine has been sitting in a cubicle busting a gut to produce this piece of software, probably with some manager riding their ass and a bunch of conflicting requirements coming from the douchebags in marketing and sales and business analysis and all those other people who don’t know how the fuck a computer works but think their opinions are somehow valid. And this engineer somehow performs the miracle of reconciling all these different inputs, making everybody happy and at the same time writing this gnarly piece of software. You want me to laugh at that? Whoever that is should be given a medal.

The best bit is of course that these examples are completely worthless. My product doesn’t make people choose which of the fifty states they’re in even when they don’t live in the US. It isn’t some bridge somewhere that projects the cock-signal onto itself at sunset. It isn’t some medical device that kills patients when the nurse forgets to press a button. That means I’m doing better than all the examples, which means I’m doing UX right. Right?

Capriciousness

If you manage to get past the fluff talk and the bad examples and trap a UX person into asking what a good example is, you’ll get a different answer every sodding week. Last week they were all telling us how interfaces should be discoverable and how you should have UI elements with clear actions like buttons and things. This week it’s all about these completely arcane and undiscoverable gestures; I mean what the fuck? The last twitter app I downloaded made me page through about ten pages of user manual before it even let me send a fucking tweet, which is the whole point of the piece of crap. You’re supposed to swipe right with three fingers making the shape of the Eye of Horus or some bullshit to retweet, or something like that. The fact is I didn’t read the manual (sorry, “soft landing” as the hipsters want me to call it) so I’ve got no fucking clue how to do even the simplest of things.

And that’s just this week’s UX hotness. Next week it’ll all be Jordi LaForge visors or some crap, because that went really well for that Virtuality company back in the 1990s.

Which brings me on to the next way to win at UX without actually doing any work. Build whatever shitty UI you want, and just wait for the UX consultant circlejerk to decide that the way you did it is the way all apps should do it. You’ll only need to wait a fortnight, maybe a month tops.

Everything – or anything – is UX

The best thing is that you too can be in on this party! Whatever you know now, whatever you’re an expert in, you can claim is part of the user experience. You know OpenCL? That’s about making things fast and responsive, therefore you’re a UX consultant! You know Core Audio? Making machines go “ping” when something goes wrong is part of the user experience! You’re a project manager? Fuck that, you’re a User Experience Coordinator!

And so the final way in which I’m winning at UX without really trying is that whatever the fuck it is I do is user experience. Nobody wants to be hacked, right? So security contributes to the….experience…of the…crack addictuser, right?

Enough of this crap.

It’s time to acknowledge that UX is a complete load of snake oil, and that its biggest contribution to society has been to reduce unemployment among people who think £150 is a modest amount to pay for a shirt. It’s time to show that us engineers can make software without their help, just as we did both before they came along and indeed while they were swanning around being better than us.

Therefore I introduce my latest initiative, the Clueless Losers are Inexperienced paradigm for software design. CLI harks back to the days when we knew that computers are tricky and software is hard, and we didn’t apologise for it or pay consultants to apologise for us. It acknowledges that software is hard to write, so it’d sure as hell be hard to use and you should all be damned grateful if we allow you to use it at all.

There won’t be expensive hands-on labs or conference talks about how to make CLI apps. Just do whatever it is you need to get the software working. We acknowledge that people are inexperienced and clueless when it comes to software, so there’s no point going out of our way to make things easier for them because it just makes it easier for them to mess it up.

Oh, and I fixed that crack pusher bullshit that’s been going on. We’re not going to call people “users” like they’re some farm of addicts waiting for their next hit. The word “loser” doesn’t have those pejorative connotations, so in CLI that’s what we call people who interact with our software.

I’m really excited about the CLI, and about heralding the start of the post-UX-bubble software economy. I hope you’ll all join me in making software as complicated as it deserves to be.

{ 6 } Comments

  1. Drew McKinney | April 1, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    A few things:

    Sounds like you’re working with a particularly bad/inexperienced UX designer. A good designer should be able to justify any decision based on appropriate research or exemplar findings (“good examples”), not just because they feel a certain way.

    Signifiers of bad UX people:
    1. They have difficulty explaining their rationale for a design
    2. They have little or no research (usually user research) to back up their claims
    3. They cling to sexy tech trends rather than letting the design dictate platform
    4. They have trouble receiving feedback on designs (read: ego) from anyone, including engineers

    Your criticism of UX community ignoring performance as a UX metric is 100% accurate. The reason it is ignored is because it is often outside the UX designers’ domain expertise. FWIW, the best UX designers (IMVHO) come from engineering/CS backgrounds, and engage in at least some basic engineering practices to keep fresh.

    Shitting on the user: you talk about how hard software is to write and so it should be hard to use. This is a common engineering argument from, oh, 20 years ago. Check out “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” by Cooper (former engineer-come-UX designer). If you want to take this attitude, that’s fine, but fully expect to engage in smaller percentage of the community.

    AAPL embraced the non-technical user and that’s worked out pretty well for them. A disproportionate percentage of early iPad adopters were over 50. These are people who felt that software was finally designed for them; they could understand it and use it. Most of the support emails I receive on my apps are from lawyers, doctors, etc. (I know this because they let me know right away in the email, lol).

    The great thing about UX is that it’s a way of thinking about the world, not a discrete practice. Engineers, designers, business people, marketers can all frame their argument around human needs and desires. But this must be based on solid user research (ethnography, interviews, contextual inquiry, etc.) or deep understanding of the person you’re designing for.

    In an organization that embraces UX, good UX design should start and stop with discussion of the person who is using the software, and anyone should be able to engage in these sorts of conversations, not just those designated as “designers”.

  2. Lukas Pitschl | April 1, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Hehe, happy april fools day to you too

  3. Maha | April 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    I thought UX was bad too, until I met a designer who told me that he “solves problems”…I was like What?!? and then he went on to explain how specific coloring/patterns on a bus help you recognize it from far, and even describe it easily…example….yellow/black striped bus…whereas if he had used some complicated shade like mauve, it would’ve been difficult to describe. Its basically common sense.

    The ones who don’t realize that UX is about solving problems are the bad ones…stay a mile away from them, two if possible 😛

  4. Amy | April 2, 2012 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Haha, thanks for this. Fun read.

    What’s awesome is you can replace “UX” with “programming” or “agile” or “test-first” or anything code-related and the essay still makes sense.

    Crappy people, man! They’re EVERYWHERE!

    PS – I do *actual* UX, but don’t hang out or talk with other “UX Professionals” because of all the reasons you cite. Even I got annoyed by how nobody ever wrote about how to do it, but only about anti-patterns. There’s too much time wasted on discussing stupid little stuff like error messages, when the core issue is that all the basic assumptions of the way they design software is wrong. Even UX and UI “pros” fall back on attacking each “screen” and trying to make it “usable” based on flawed rules instead of asking “Does this EVEN need to be here at all?”

    But this is true in every field: most people would rather flap about on the surface of the kiddie pool, in their water wingies, instead of even admitting there’s a deep ocean full of monsters below them.

    Sadly clients and employers eat that shit up.

    Which is why I quit working for other people and started to design my own software, my own way, and judge my success by how happy I can make my *customers*.

    But alas. The surface people will always outnumber those of us who really try.

  5. rmacs | April 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Damn and I sit opposite this guy… watch out for flying objects 😉

  6. cheekbone magazine | July 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    You lot are all idiots.