Can Non-UXers Really Know UX?

We’ve all been there, when you are presenting your ideas and some know-it-all stakeholder says “well isn’t it better UX if you do ?”. It was a recent instance of this recurring scenario that got me thinking ‘Can people who aren’t UX Designers claim to “know UX”?’, and, if so, ‘What am I supposed to do with their knowledge?’. To answer these questions, I once again turned to my inner athlete for guidance.

The UX Athlete

From designing plays to designing experiences... Lis Hubert shares with us her insights on how to become better in what we do.

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I remembered a situation a short while ago when I was out with friends, two of them avid fans of different professional american football teams. They were talking in depth about the current season, making projections about who was going to ‘win it all”. I thought to myself ‘I know football, the rules, the game, etc, but this conversation takes it to a whole other level that I’m not equipped to be in’. And that was when it hit me.

You see, my football knowledge is equivalent to the UX knowledge of many non-UX people that speak up in meetings. Like them, I have a general knowledge about the topic, and may even provide high level insight, but I certainly can’t project who is going to “win it all”. Thus, these non-UX people can know about UX, and their interjections can actually prove helpful to us.

Therefore, as the people practicing UX, our job becomes first, not to prove these people wrong, but instead, to facilitate the sharing of their insight in a way that provides us with more ideas. And second, to use these moments as educational opportunities to explain in further detail our rationale. Be doing so we can teach the value of having a practicing UX person there, versus just having people that know high-level UX. From this, I guarantee that the next time they question our rationale, it will be with an air of respect, and an anxious-to-learn ear. And, how does that not make all of our jobs a little easier?

Elisabeth Hubert

Lis is a UX & Strategy Consultant making her way around NYC and beyond. She also is the Chief Experience Officer at 8coupons. You can follow her on Twitter via @lishubert.

9 comments on this article

  1. Arun Kumar Dadhwal on

    I agree with your thoughts on this completely. Above scenario happens all the time. But tell me this, when such Idea is pitched, what is best response?
    a) to start explaining that I Have already thought of the pitched idea, it does not work & why the Idea I am presenting is better
    — OR —
    b) tell that I will come back to it after presentation, why I chose the presented idea over pitched one?

    Generally saying, its our job to think of all the possible use-cases & present only the most viable/effective solution(s) that we can come up with. If I have done my work properly it will save me from taking suggestions from a Non-UXer.

    Until now, when I happened to be in such scenario & idea thrown is not pivotal for application I stop myself from defending my decision right away. Instead I tell such person that I will come back to his query or point after my presentation.

    Advantage: I don’t get dragged away in lengthy discussions, my story do not break and an instant silent feedback to everybody in room that I have done my work properly 🙂

    Disadvantage: I might lose some good ideas too as a side-effect 🙁

  2. Shir Aloni on

    Hi Elisabeth,
    I ran recently into a case that relates to your post.
    I am trying to convince a big firm to hire us as UX/UI Designers. The customer agreed he needs UI Design for his app development but can’t be convinced he also needs the UX part as he usually nominates field expert as his product managers. To his point, an inner leader coming with the right field expertise will do a better UX job that an external contractor (no matter how good he is 🙂 )

  3. Zohare on

    Great thought piece. I agree, channeling unstructured or amateur input (UX or otherwise) to help understand the ‘layman’ feedback and translating it into pro UX-Speak makes the synergy between both audiences seamless, but also makes the UX’er better for it.

    Way to convert a #Fail into a #Win.


  4. Lis Hubert on

    Arun… great points! Also consider (c) asking them “why”? I have found myself doing this more and more, in order to dig into the insight that they are trying to show me. It has helped wonders.

  5. Scot Przybylski on

    I agree and well said. As UX designers our job is to listen, learn and apply. Regardless of who you’re listening to.

  6. Bruce Melendy on

    *Any* user *knows* UX. I’m not a UX designer but I know when my UX is poor and I can articulate why. Any reasonable person can understand concepts like usability and accessibility and they can coherently, usefully tell you what is good and bad about their UX.

    For instance, when I answered ‘no’ to the question below and clicked ‘Post that thought’, I lost my original post. That is a very poor UX. I think most UX designers would agree with me.

  7. Sarah Doody on

    Agreed! Increasingly, I see the role of the UX person including much more of an educational component. At first, it can seem quite frustrating when everyone thinks they “know” UX because they use the Internet. But, if you change your mindset and use it as teaching opportunity, in time, you’ll help educate stakeholders and as a result, receive better quality of input and less frivolous pushback to your ideas. It’s a slow process, but I’ve seen it happen 🙂

    PS: I wrote about this on my blog a while ago: “Why everyone can’t be a user experience designer” –>

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  9. Stacia on

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how (in my local scene anyway), a lot of UX events consist of many non-UX people. They are filled with people of all ages and backgrounds who have heard about UX and want to get in with the cool kids. The effect is the dumbing down of events and discussions. Or, a lot of confusing discussions because half the people are pretenders.

    I currently work in an org where many “UX Designers” have no actual UX background. They just are smart graphic/web designers who ask good questions and think of users. But there’s more to it than that.

    It’s frustrating.