UX design without users?

An empty stage flanked by dark red curtains. UX design without users.
UX Theatre – UX design without users.

How can you have User Experience design, or UX design, without focusing on users? When the big bosses say there isn’t time or money. That’s when designers default to trialling designs on their colleagues and family. UX design without user experience happens when corporates just want a good look without actually focusing on users.

The FastCompany website has a very readable article that punches home an important message for all design fields. It’s titled, UX design has a dirty secret:

“UX Theatre is easy to spot: It’s the application of any sort of design methodology without including a single user in the process, or including users but merely for show.”

The article by Tanya Snook claims there are more projects branding themselves as user-centred design than is the actual case. She explains why. First, UX design is a vague concept and not well defined. Design teams find themselves underfunded and unable to do all the work user experience requires. 

Second, design is touted as something everyone can do. This is only true to a point. Being able to do maths doesn’t make everyone an accountant. Thinking from the user’s perspective isn’t UX design either. 

It’s rare to find designers who are good at both design and facilitating design workshops. And designers don’t always have a say in how projects are structured or run.

A call to action

Snook concludes the article with a call to action for designers. She says they have to do more than design and advocate for users and the funding to do it. 

“We can help our organizations improve if we approach UX Theatre from the perspective of critique instead of criticism. We can call out UX Theatre. We can show how testing and research help us design solutions to customer problems, and even anticipate potential problems with new products and services.”