Preaching to the choir, just when you thought it was safe

Authors: Monica Granfield
Posted: Wed, April 02, 2014 - 10:41:12

UX has made great strides within the mainstream IT and software community. Hard work, education, and return on investment have all contributed to growth of the UX design discipline over the past 10 years. UX (with which I am bundling research) is now gaining traction and opening doors in a large variety of industries, from healthcare to robotics. New avenues such as customer experience are gaining traction and opening even more doors for our discipline. This is a very exciting time for UX and CX! However, with opportunity comes challenge and there is still a fair amount of work to do out there.

The industry is changing as software moves off of the desktop and out into every type of electronic device imaginable, creating new ecosystems, new experiences, and exciting new challenges. With these developments, UX often finds itself back at the starting gate, most commonly back to a point of playing defense and vying for offensive play. With this it seems UX needs to proactively broaden its reach into educating and building awareness within these new industries.

The playbook is the same, just with a new team. After a recent move into the uncharted territory of a new industry and attending UX-related events, I realized that I was not the only one facing these challenges. I thought, as many others I have spoken with since, that UX was more commonly understood now. This has me thinking: Maybe we are all preaching to the choir. Maybe the UX industry needs to break out of our own comfort zone and start spreading the word at other industry professional events. Reaching into new industries could open our playbooks and allow these new industries to gain awareness and knowledge of UX outside of the political arena within the workplace.  

I am curious if anyone out there has been representing UX at other professional meetings and conferences. Are there any UX talks happening at IEEE or Business Professionals of America? Yes, being in the trenches educating your team and your organization may be the best ground up approach, and branching out to present to the disciplines we most often collaborate with, within their comfort zone, might gain greater traction among these disciplines. Internal grassroots efforts can be an uphill climb, as a team or as an individual. Building momentum and awareness of UX as a discipline within other disciplines could be a game changer for us at the professional level. Who knows how other disciplines might receive the UX message. If other disciplines want to create and participate in creating the best user experience, this might be one route to success.

At the education level the momentum is gaining. The D-school at Stanford, which was hatched out of the School of Engineering in 2005, has begun educating students on the value and application of design collaboration, to create “innovators.” Bringing more awareness of UX design to engineering is also important. I have heard of efforts such as Jared Spool teaching UX courses in the Graduate Management Engineering program at Tufts University’s Gordon Institute. Many undergraduate universities are now offering UX classes within the software engineering curriculum. These classes are key to setting the stage for the next wave of technical talent coming out of university, who will gain the ability to understand value and collaborate around the use of UX design in creation and innovation.

Universities presenting more opportunities for cross pollination and collaboration between design, engineering, and business may be helpful in breaking down departmental barriers in the future. Today, creating the opportunity for design and research to truly become innovators, especially within new domains, is still a challenge. I have heard the argument that if designers want to participate in design strategy to address the business, they should become business strategists, and that is for MBAs. However, as most UX professionals know we are not claiming to be business strategists. Yet our insights and offerings do overlap with business strategy, and this is a lesser known use of design, as opposed to overlapping with product development or engineering. We are mediators of how these disciplines contribute to the fruition of the resulting user experience and that word needs to reach a world of professionals who are heads down, working off of what they know. Current grads are getting some exposure and cross pollination; however, it will be some time before they are in the top ranks championing the next generation of technology or customer experiences. Therefore, it is up to the design community today to reach out, reach over, and continue to break down the barriers and open minds outside of traditional software.  

Posted in: on Wed, April 02, 2014 - 10:41:12

Monica Granfield

Monica Granfield is a user experience strategist at Go Design LLC.
View All Monica Granfield's Posts

Post Comment

@Richard Anderson (2014 04 15)

Speaking of Stanford, Medicine X— “the world’s premier patient-centered conference on emerging technology and medicine” (see — is largely about human-centered design and the patient experience. This is a fabulous conference that brings together a wide range of healthcare professionals and designers and patients. In my view, this kind of conference is better than a conference silted on one profession at which one or two UX/CX people speak.