In high school I was that kid that in theory was supposed to get top grades. I was serious in class, spoke intelligently and appeared studious. Yet my grades were not great – not terrible, just not what teachers were expecting of me.  The truth was, I just wasn’t a perfectionist in school, not even close – I did what I had to do to get by and not much more.

But when I started my usability work after college, my perspective was different. I saw it as my mission to make the newly emerging web resources a better place for all. And I didn’t like when it wasn’t.  If a client hired me to help them improve the overall user experience then I would do just that – pushing for what was right and good for users.  And if they didn’t take my advice – well, they just had to, so I’d push some more, trying to overcome all sorts of political hurdles or external constraints so that the website in question would be fully usable.

As I matured in my career, I realized that it was unnecessary to push so hard; in fact, not only was it unnecessary, it was actually counterproductive.

My lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to use your UX knowledge to create or suggest improvements, but if they don’t happen, that’s ok. Life goes on.

This year, I’ve made it a point to mention this in my various UX training courses, and I’ve seen positive feedback from this call out, both in follow-up course evaluations and on social media.

Tweet from September 4: @afox98: Love the realism of @corylebson that #usability might at times take a back seat to certain political or security constraints. #bigd14


You’ll be happier.

It’s stressful and disappointing when you really, really want something to happen and it doesn’t. So make the decision that your goal is to use your UX skills and knowledge to create good designs and recommendations; if your ideas are rejected and if your worst concern is some user frustration, take a deep breath and move on to other things.  My expectation these days is that while clients appreciate hearing me give all of my recommendations, they’re only going to take perhaps half of those recommendations.  Some of the rejected recommendations will be saved for later, and others just won’t be able to be addressed because of political constraints, or perhaps for security reasons.

Your co-workers and clients will like you better.

Face it – as a UX-er who works with those not in UX, some of your ideas and designs may come across as unnecessary, require too much development effort, or just sound silly. Explain yourself logically and rationally, and provide a basis for your recommendations. But if you keep pushing and pushing after you state your considerations, you’ll be ignored.  And not only ignored this time, but in subsequent discussions too.

On the other hand, if you’re seen as someone who can take a step back and listen to others on the team, they’ll be more comfortable approaching you with their UX concerns, knowing that while you’ll be honest with them, you’re not going to keep pushing them to the point of annoyance.

You can always end a discussion with: “Okay, let’s test it out.”

As a good UX professional you know that while you may have a great sense of general UX best practice, when it comes to actual users, every audience is different.

There have been times when I’ve been right: Guess what, not all users know a logo goes home, and oh, by the way, slapping three little lines into the shape of a theoretical hamburger and putting it in a tiny corner of a mobile site doesn’t guarantee that all users know that this provides menu access.

But there also have been times when I’ve been wrong: Yes, it was true that the menu header was totally wrong for what was contained within the menu, but by process of elimination all the users figured it out without difficulty.

While your recommendations for testing may not be taken immediately because of project deadlines or budget considerations, just keep a list of all the times that you’d recommend testing. When you’ve gotten a bunch of these together, you can perhaps make a case that some user research could provide many valuable insights and answer a number of questions, better justifying the need for research.

Make a difference, but don’t save the world.

Absolutely, it feels good to know that you are making a difference to your company or client; if they really never listen to you, it’s probably not the right place to be. But revel in the small differences you can make instead of feeling the failure of not having the huge successes in the form of change you might hope for.

There is no absolute truth in UX.

There is no one right path in religion. There is no one right path in politics.  And there is no one right path in UX.  Really – there are often so many ways to achieve a good user experience that if your client, co-worker or boss rejects your first idea, listen to what they have to say, see if you can accept it, and then perhaps see if there is a need to suggest further tweaks or alternatives.  You may end up with something that is totally different than what you had originally considered but that would still be more usable than the initial option.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

So go out there and do your UX best. Make a difference, if you can, and don’t worry when you can’t.  And if all else fails, find your outlet to help you let it go.  For me, it’s a good long run through the woods.

Image: iqoncept /