I recently found an article on The New Inquiry that listed “some rules for teachers”. They were very intelligent rules. And the more I read them, the more I feel like they apply to UX, and leadership in general.
User Experience designers must inherently be leaders, because we are often in a position to influence our colleagues and clients about things they don’t understand. And sometimes we have the power to destroy products — if not companies.
But more importantly, we need to see our team and our company as resources, not obstacles.
If you feel like the person sitting next to you is a burden to your greatness in UX, you’re doing it wrong.
With that as an introduction, I give you these 15 rules to live by, slightly adapted from the originals, as commandments for being the best UX leader you can be, especially if you’re just starting your career.
1. Only ask the questions to which you really need answers.
Whether you’re designing a form for your users, or getting feedback from your colleagues, or interviewing users, or creating a survey, be selective and considerate when you ask questions.
If it is possible to get information from the data, start there. If you are asking for extra information just because you can, take pause. And if you are trying to focus on too many things in a meeting, pull back.
2. Demonstrate uncertainty.
You are not perfect, and there are things that you don’t know. By admitting when you don’t know the answer, or that you have made a mistake, you create trust. If the people around you know that you will admit your faults, they will have more faith in your opinions and conclusions.
3. Reconstruct your own previous errors of thought and elucidate to your colleagues and clients what factors lead to a changed mind.
You will learn and experience many things that your colleagues will not understand. The best way to get them on board with your conclusions is to explain how you got there. Make time to walk them through your process.
4. Do not let the terms with which you understand the world get in the way of understanding it.
Your personal preferences, experiences, biases, and prejudice are irrelevant when you’re doing UX. You are designing for other people, not for yourself, so if you disagree with the users, go with the users. Your view of the world might be wrong.
5. Give up any desire to be the smartest person in the room.
If you are the UX person, and you’re discussing UX, you probably know the most. But that doesn’t make you the smartest.
Groups can bring many perspectives to the conversation, and ask many questions that you may not have considered. In UX, the best solution should always win, whether it was your idea or not.
Walk into every conversation looking for the things you have missed, not for opportunities to show off what you think you know.
6. Remember that people — including you — have bodies, and bodies require movement, sustenance, rest, and relief.
Working harder and faster doesn’t produce better results. And it is your responsibility to make sure you have enough time to solve a problem effectively.
If you need two weeks, don’t be afraid to say “no” when someone asks if you can do the work in a week. Sometimes the best solutions come from times of rest, not times of intensity.
7. Leave room for creativity.
Try to work and design in a flexible way. There are usually many different ways to solve a problem well. Your solution may not seem so perfect in 6 months when you have new information, so let it evolve, especially if you won’t be around to supervise later.
8. Preserve and sustain whatever delusions you’ve found necessary to behave in good faith.
There are a lot of opportunities to abuse users for profit. In the long term, those things are destructive.
Empathy isn’t always the most profitable answer, but it is always the right attitude. This, and anything else that preserves morality in your designs, should be protected.
9. Do not be afraid to state the obvious.
Just because it is obvious to you, doesn’t mean it is obvious to anyone else. Sometimes the most impressive thing you can do is take something complex and simplify it into a basic, obvious statement.
10. A socratic bully is still a bully.
A good way to teach other people about UX is to ask them questions that allow them to discover the truth on their own. They are much more likely to remember the lesson like this, rather than just telling them the answer.
However, this type of teaching can feel very condescending if you do it to satisfy your own ego.
11. Thoroughly prepare, including making preparations to abandon your preparations entirely.
Nobody should know more about the problem than you. Ever. That’s your job. Take the time to understand everything about your users and their needs, so you can represent them properly in any conversation.
In other words: Always know where your choices come from.
12. Listen with your body.
When people tell you things, shut your mouth. Lean in. Open your damn ears. Look at them, and hear the meaning behind their words.
UX starts with listening.
13. Suspect charisma.
I love this rule, because every persuasive presentation includes charisma. Charm. Confidence. Suave behaviour. And that is exactly why you should question it.
You should be charismatic when you present, but remember that people might agree with you because you have charisma, not because you are right.
And you might agree with other people because they are charismatic, not because they are right.
So when something looks good, and sounds good, and is presented with confidence, that is exactly when you should question it. You might just discover that you are lying to yourself.
14. Conduct yourself in such a way that your colleagues can eventually forget that you exist.
The perfect UX designer, in theory, should eliminate themselves from the team by making the product as good as possible, and by teaching everyone around them to do great UX design.
If you are the most knowledgeable UX person on the team, people will quickly start to rely on your input. That might feel great for you, but you are teaching them to be helpless without you. That’s bad.
Build more UX designers and more UX knowledge whenever you can.
15. It never hurts to start with the basics.
The original rules included “every student is a genius”, but I think that is wrong.
It is a very noble mindset to believe that every person could have hidden genius within them, but most don’t, and people who are not geniuses are the ones who need us most. They are the majority.
Design for the beginners first. If you make it easy and clear for the distracted fools, you’ll never have to worry about the geniuses.
Rules for teachers, indeed.