How to Spot the Faux-Prophets of UX Design
Too many “UX Designers” out there are giving UX a bad rep, especially in the MENA region.
We have too many low-quality design firms that can’t create Good Design™ trying to jump on the UX bandwagon. These firms take advantage of the still budding profession in the region and are steering it off a cliff.
Full-disclaimer: This is a full-blown rant about false UX prophets after going through several projects the past week where I had to clean up after the mess of these types of firms.
More often than not, these firms tend to have failed as fully-fledged design firms (or in some occasions failed software start-ups) and decide UX would be a great fallback because the region still doesn’t understand what UX is.
Their philosophy usually revolves around “throw a few dropdown menus and radio buttons, and we’ve got UX baby!” - There is zero thought process or research in their work.
How can you spot one of these firms? Look at any revamp project they had. You’ll spot them when you realise that you can only describe their work as UI Re-skinning. They give the existing UI a jazzy new look, but the flow is still the same, if not worse.
They’ll cite make-believe user needs research, non-existent heuristics, or user Tests that involved imaginary people. They’ll never actually give you a report, but they’ll always volunteer on-the-spot analytics to sound credible in hopes of shutting you up. The fun part occurs when you keep pushing them. If you poke them enough, they’ll snap at you in the middle of a meeting.
If you’ve been through design school, you know that a tell-tale sign of a non-designer is that they’re never willing to tear apart their work, and cannot handle constructive criticism. If you haven’t been through formal design education, that’s alright. It’s a skill you will learn though it might take some more time since you might not have classmates or mentors that are actively ripping your design a new one. I will highlight that there is a big difference between constructive criticism and criticism for the sake of putting you down.
The worst part isn’t that these bandwagon-ers are giving UX a bad rep, but that they’re so influential that their terrible misrepresentation of the profession is perpetuating and harming its growth in the region. Firms end up hiring people who need a job but have no idea what UI or UX is. There’s no harm in doing this if you’re willing to invest in your employees and get them the education they need, that would be admirable. The reality is that firms aren’t doing that.
They’re hiring designers, asking them to do UX, UI, Animation, and if they ever needed it, they probably ask for photography. I do not blame the designers, at the end of the day if you need a job, you’ll take the job.
You’ll also find that many firms use UI and UX synonymously, and more often than not when a firm mentions UX, they mean UI. A lot of this is a symptom of these false-prophets propagating the misconception that UX is UI.
If you look at UX roles in the MENA region, you’ll find that very few ever integrate a research process and very few place emphasis on the need for iterative design to learn from user tests. The multiple firms I have interviewed with all came with the vague promises of “oh we will do user needs research and testing in the future, but we’re not ready for it just yet”. I’ll save you the wait for Godot and tell you what really happens: Nothing. Nada. Zilch! The firm will not allocate any research time or budget and will refuse to accept the notion that design is iterative. They only want new screens.
Why is this the fault of the fault prophets? It’s because that’s how these false-UX prophets work. They hand-off their work, and skip away to the next firm they’re going to deceive. As a result, firms have no idea what to expect during a ‘hand-off’ process and leaves a lot of ambiguity about UX. When the firm does hire an internal UX designer, they expect the designer to be a jack-of-all-trades because the firm doesn’t understand what to do with the designer.
If I got a dollar for every time a firm asked me to join them as a UX designer, only to find out they want a Visual/UI designer or a one-(wo)man-design-and-web-development-team, then… I’d be able to afford a Happy Meal or two.
How do you spot a faux-UX prophet?
- Their research process is non-existent.
- If the faux-prophets do have a research phase, it typically contains made-up statistics, but little to no user needs assessments. There is no verifiable data to back their claims.
- They make up statistics on the spot that cannot be verified.
- They do not handle constructive criticism or design discourse.
- They focus primarily on the aesthetics.
- They provide one design iteration and do not involve you nor show you their ideation sketches or wireframes.
- The documents that you ask for ‘go missing’. They’ll tell you with a straight face that “they deleted the relevant data or files”. Let’s be real here, I’m a bit messy, but I still have my data from my very first year in university. I find it hard to believe a company will delete data that’s a few months old.
- Their hand-off process involves screenshots only and provides no guidelines or design systems. Maybe it’s the architect side of me that compels me to do this, but I make sure my developers receive every little detail they need - From how to style a button, to how it interacts, and to the exact fonts they should be using if the primary font fails to load.
- Their work is not WCAG compliant, and when asked about it, they’ll either brush you off or claim you’re making a big deal out of nothing. They don’t know what WCAG stands for (psst… it’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).
- They have big egos. There is a difference between the ego of a superstar designer, and the ego of a faux-prophet. The faux-prophet will take it personally if you challenge them, whereas a superstar designer will embrace the challenge as long as you’re challenging them with a valid concern. The worst part of faux-prophets is that they are not aware that they’re false messiahs.
If you do come across faux UX prophets, do us all a favour and call them out at every step of the way. These people are irresponsible, unethical, and are tainting the image of UX in the industry. You owe it to the company you work with to raise awareness if you notice these faux-prophets trying to weasel their way into a project. If you happen to work for a faux-UX prophet firm, and you’re aware that something is wrong - All the power to you, it’s an uphill struggle, but not impossible to win. You need to start small and then work your way up to help promote and create a healthier environment that is conducive to UX work.
Design Thinking is not optional in any design field, and it’s definitely not optional in the field of UX design.