Why UX?


I recently spoke to a development group in UW-IT about how they might integrate UX thinking into their daily work. They are in a good place. Everyone —from the administration to the project teams— has bought into the idea of UX, but they just weren’t sure how to proceed.

For me, beyond the absolute pleasure of talking to this group, this offered a welcome opportunity to clarify my current thinking about the role of UXDs in product development. You can check out the resulting presentation below. Some of the content has sparked meaningful and intense dialog with my colleagues, so I thought I’d share it in hopes of broadening the conversation.

You see, this invitation was incredibly timely. Here at ACA, we are completing an overhaul of how we manage product development, which led to some serious soul-searching about how we should modify our Scrum and UX processes & artifacts to allow for holistic, efficient, and effective User-Centered Design (UCD) within an Agile framework. [a future post on this is forthcoming HERE!*]

This soul-searching, on the UX side, was initiated by taking a pause and asking ourselves —as UX professionals— “why UX?”. It is a simple, but often overlooked question in our profession, resulting in an appropriately simple answer.

We, as UX Designers, offer one primary value to the product team and to our users: mapping the product to the target users’ real workflows (how the users would naturally set about accomplishing their goals). That is it. Once we nail that, we are really just in the business of optimizing certain aspects of the product to maximize the already established usability.

This seems obvious, but a large majority of the Designers out there miss this fundamental basis for good UCD. I’m not talking about noobs here, but highly educated, well-experienced UXDs. Our fundamental purpose seems to get lost somewhere in the rush to present pretty artifacts to satisfy our clients, users, and —ultimately— our own vanity**.

This clarity of purpose has had a rapid and profound affect on how we Design; communicate with clients and colleagues; and even manage our development projects.

Anyway, I elaborate on this in the presentation below, as well as share some best practices for establishing a culture of UX for your team. Be sure to check out the presentation narrative, as it complements the slides.

If any questions; thoughts; or opinions come to mind, leave a comment below. I’d love to continue this conversation.

Prezi Slide Deck

*In writing this post, I just stumbled across Aviva Rosenstein’s post “The UX Professionals’ Guide to Working with Agile Scrum Teams”. While we fundamentally disagree with some of her proposed solutions, some of the problems described in the “Opinions on what wasn’t working” section are word for word the problems we identified and set out to solve with our new product development framework.
**Paul Adams touches on this fundamental criticism of the state of Design in the intro to his blog post, “The Dribbblisation of Design”.

Jason Civjan

Jason manages the ACA UX team. When not getting in the way of the team’s progress, the team lets him pretend to contribute on project work.


  1. rakeshvashi · October 4, 2014

    Hey Jason, really an informative post about UX.I agree with you about the soul searching concept where we as UX designers ask our self ‘Why UX’.I also have got this question in my mind a few times and the answer you have given is to the point and appropriate.Also,I know about the User centered Design but i donot know much about the Agile framework.I would appreciate if could give an explanation for the same. Regards,Rakesh Vashi.

    • Jason Civjan · October 4, 2014

      I really appreciate your comment and am glad to hear that you found the post interesting.

      Agile is a development philosophy that encourages getting product out the door and in front of users quickly and regularly; and is supported by project management frameworks such as Scrum or Kanban.

      I actually have a post (the first of a 3-part series) about UX and Agile going out tomorrow (Monday), which might answer some of your questions. The series will continue weekly and give an overview of our new Agile project management framework that we created to better support UCD.

      For more information:
      Agile: http://agilemanifesto.org/ and http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html
      Scrum: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrum_(software_development)
      Kanban: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_(development)

      I hope this helps.

      • rakeshvashi · October 4, 2014

        Thanks for the information