User Experience Design is Dead; Long Live User Experience

In a recent post where I argued that the biggest challenge the field faces is understanding how companies can sustainably and repeatedly deliver great experiences, a commenter wrote Bryan Zmijewski from Zurb commented, “UX Design doesn’t exist and designers have only tried to reinterpreted what great product designers, design thinkers and design managers having been doing for many decades before the web ever came along. The only things that have matured are the designers themselves.”

My initial thought upon reading this comment was, “Bullshit.” But upon further thinking, I realized he’s partly right. When you’re designing for user experience, you’re designing toward a desired outcome, the user’s experience, not a thing. If this is true, then user experience design would be the only form of design not defined by the medium, technology, or artifacts of its design, and that’s weird. And so I’m beginning to believe “UX design” doesn’t exist, really.

The label “User experience design” emerged in order to combat the small-mindedness of design for technology that was prevalent in the early 90s. During the technological boom of the last 20 years, with the emergence of the Web, prevalence of computers in all aspects of our lives, and the increasing complexity of the things we are building, “user experience” has been a helpful term in that it continually reminded us to think beyond whatever narrow thing we’re considering at the time, and to consider the entire user’s experience.

And now, in 2012, with Apple, Inc. having the largest market capitalization of any company in the world, and an endless stream of CEOs and pundits talking about the importance of user experience, I suspect the phrase “user experience design” is no longer necessary, and could even be harmful. Harmful because it suggests that the only folks who need to worry about user experience are the designers, when in fact companies need to treat user experience no different than they treat profitability, or corporate culture, or innovation, or anything else that’s essential for it’s ongoing success. The companies that succeed best in delivering great experience are those that have it as an organization-wide mindset.

(Why is the comment only partly right? Because UX design was not simply a matter of reinterpreting that great designers have done in the past. It has been an ongoing attempt to grapple with the newfound complexity of the subjects of design, a complexity that our prior tools and methods were simply not up to the task of addressing. And he’s wrong for using the phrase “design thinkers”–if “UX design” doesn’t exist, than “design thinkers” most certainly do not.)

Top Chef: Season 9, Episode 14: Mentors

…And the beat goes on…

If you watched the last Last Chance Kitchen, the edit lead you to believe that Grayson was the winner, which is why it was utterly unsurprising to see Beverly return at the start of the episode. The Magical Elves seem to have a love of ham handed misdirection.

The quickfire was disappointingly insipid, even more so because it conferred the opportunity for immunity and a guaranteed spot in the Final Four. The chefs that second-guess Sarah’s decision to not take the car are only fooling themselves. At every stage of the game, the priority is to advance. Period. Plus, she got to have a relaxed day and decent night’s sleep, which at this stage of the competition is remarkably valuable.

I loved when the mentors walked in and the cooks last their collective shit (well, except for Edward.) It was one of the most honest displays of emotion I’ve seen on television, and Paul’s inability to contain himself had >me choking up while I was on the elliptical trainer, which makes staying in rhythm hard. Even for all the editing trickery that goes on with the show, the authenticness of its participants means that Top Chef taps into real human emotion unlike anything else out there.

There’s not one fan of the show who didn’t know that Edward was going down the moment he bought the smoked oysters.

Given all the grief she’s received, Beverly’s success makes for Good TV.

Paul continues to operate on a plane utterly separate from the rest of the competition. Gail’s blog post points out that the TV edit underplays the quality of Paul’s dish — she says it’s the only truly memorable plate she’d had all season, and among the tops in all seasons.

If he doesn’t win it all, it would be a huge surprise.

Asymco’s “Hollywood by the Numbers” – Industrial Sclerosis

Growing up a math nerd in Los Angeles, I was preternaturally drawn to Hollywood metrics. My dad would bring home Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and I would comb over the latest box office numbers and television ratings.

So it was that I was compelled to read Asymco’s lengthy exegesis on Hollywood box office data over the last 35 years.

Of all the charts and graphs shown, I found this the most explicative:
Click for full size.

It shows that the type 5 studios have pretty much remained the same, and that their proportion of overall box office has held steady, too.

I can’t think of a single other industry where this would be true.

It demonstrates just how… hardened the film industry is, and how unreceptive to innovation and new thinking. This graph is a depiction of the industry’s sclerosis. I suspect that this graph is made possible by the overwhelming favoritism our government has shown the film industry (particularly in the extending of copyright), which has created an unfair advantage for incumbents, and made it nearly impossible for upstarts to get a foothold. It’s also why Hollywood throws so much weight behind suffocating legislation such as SOPA and PIPA — if you’re industry has no new ideas, then lobby to protect the old ways for as long as possible.