UX is making me dumb

User Experience Design (or UX for short) has exploded on the software scene carrying a blazing torch of freedom and promising to guide us to the holy land. We are now dedicating time and resources specifically to user experience design. This emphasis on actually designing user interactions and the experience of our applications is a fantastic effort and I applaud all those that wave the UX flag and sing its praises. But I have one problem: UX is making me a worse software developer.

An unfortunate byproduct of the UX revolution is the misinformation that developers simply can’t design good experiences. We see article after article explaining what happens when you leave developers in charge of UX design. People laugh at how stupid developers can be, that they just don’t “get it” when it comes to designing things well. These articles should highlight the importance of explicit thought when designing interactions in applications, they should not strip developers of their confidence and creativity. And yet that’s exactly what I’ve noticed happening to me.

Let me relate a brief hypothetical example. On our software project I am the lead clientside developer. We have a UX Specialist (aka UX Guy) that is responsible for the design of wireframes and mockups that explain how the user navigates through the application. During the UX pass, our UX Guy listens to us (developers and business guys) explain what the problem is and what we think we want the software to do. Then UX Guy goes off and comes back with a set of wireframes for how the application will work. We discuss, bring up problems, send back the wireframes for further iteration. Repeat that process until everyone is satisfied with the wireframes, then move on to actual development of features.

But then during development I have found myself getting the following question from my manager: “Hey Doug, how come you can’t do Feature X in the app?” and I have found myself actually saying this (shudder): “Oh, I guess that wasn’t included in UX Guy’s wireframes, you should ask him.” That’s a bullshit response. I’m not a neutered incompetent mindless developer. If something doesn’t work or was forgotten, I can figure out how to fix it. That doesn’t mean throw the code in without thinking about design. That means pausing my code writing, thinking through the problem carefully, designing a solution that will be sleek and elegant, and then continuing on with development.

And yet in my mind I have the unconscious prejudice that I, as a developer, cannot be allowed to make “UX” decisions. Fuck that. We are all responsible for designing the experience of our software. We are all responsible for carefully thinking through every interaction. We are all responsible for making things beautiful, making things simple, making things elegant. And more than that, we are all capable.