Content Strategy

What I do matters. Yours is bullshit.

A conversation at the magazine.

A. There’s no such thing as photo editing.

B. What are you talking about? Our photo editor is right there. Look at him, he’s working. Whatever it is he does, it’s called photo editing.

A. But can you really say there’s such a thing as photo editing? I’d argue that photos are editorial, not edited.

B. What the hell are you talking about?

Is there such a thing as content strategy? by Gerry McGovern

A conversation on the movie set.

A. Key grip isn’t a real job.

B. I know it sounds made up, but it’s real. They’re in charge of rigging the dollies and cranes for the cameras and lights.

A. Movies should be the product of a director and a camera person.

B. Are you out of your mind? Do you have any idea how hard it is to make a movie?

‘UX Professional’ isn’t a Real Job by Ryan Carson

Whenever I walk into a client’s office, I marvel at all the desks and cubicles and offices. Look at all the people! It takes concerted human effort to put out a newspaper or a magazine. Making a movie is a complex endeavor, often involving hundreds of people behind the scenes. And don’t even get me started about all the people who work at banks, whole skyscrapers full of them, doing god knows what.

I am reasonably certain that no one sits around the newspaper or the magazine or the bank, calling out coworkers’ job titles and insisting that they don’t exist. I feel totally confident that no one on the movie set says “Hey, you know what would make this process a lot better? If we didn’t have these unnecessary people, hiding behind their made-up job titles.”

Our industry is growing. Which means it’s changing. I believe a certain amount of Defining The Damn Thing (DTDT) is necessary, as it helps us clarify the boundaries of what we do. Sometimes I get frustrated by our inability to settle on a standard set of labels and descriptions for what we do, and I laughed a bit when we were mocked by the US News and World Report Best Careers 2009 report for not being able to agree on a name for ourselves.

But there’s a difference between trying to use more precise language to clarify the boundaries between roles, and declaring that someone else’s job is bullshit. The difference is that DTDT can help move the profession forward, even if it sometimes looks like messy bickering. It is inherently harmful to think you can point at a job title, a profession, a whole class of people, and claim that their work isn’t valid.

Making great digital products takes people. Lots of talented people. Recognizing the various skills and roles that go into our work is a sign of respect. If we want bigger budgets, more time to do it right, and more specialized, skilled people to do it, then we have to stop screwing ourselves over by denying the existence of other people’s jobs. Argue for more specialization, more clarity of roles, because that’s what it takes to do things right.


9 thoughts on “What I do matters. Yours is bullshit.

  1. Love this post, its something I’ve been saying for years, and its as tired as the whole “All designers should…(fill in the skill you use to express your thinking)” trope that industry can’t seem to get beyond.

    Design is a principled approach to solving problems. “Designers” come from lots of different fields and schools of thought. We need to get over ourselves and start DTDT in terms of qualities of practice as opposed to qualities of people.

  2. J.S. says:

    This is too simplistic. Take a CEO at a UX shop I interviewed with. I outlined three methodologies, with user test techniques associated — technique having been explained in white papers and test labs stretching back decades.

    She told me, “We just do what we think is best.” Unlike your contrived example, that’s a real conversation.

    It’s pretty simple — you test. Want to know if a fancy job title is legit, inflated, or pure bullshit? Ask them what they do, and how they do it. If they answer “I just do whatever I think is best — it is, indeed, bullshit.”

    If what they describe is usability — it is title inflation. If what they describe has no user test techniques, and no user focus to the method — do not then use the title USER EXPERIENCE. Not bull, but you do get the clear picture somebody is padding their resume.

    And, if, a precious few can explain methods like Kansei engineering and Captology, hire them. They may not have a fancy job title, but they are worth their weight in gold. Because that is UX on a completely different level than the b.s. being slung by vast numbers of the UX community. This is a testable proposition. I can’t help it if the people using the term UX don’t test.

    If this were software, and the user called b.s. there would be less self justification and a whole lot more change. Pretend UX exists and chalk this up as the EXPERIENCE of outsiders like USNWR (a.k.a.) interacting with your field. And trust me, you’d get a lot more buy-in for any definition if you simply looked at the situation this way.

    DTDT: Name five different kinds and types of user experience. Explain what’s in the design responsible for each, specific, different user experience. Answer this question, and this problem ceases. Overnight. And ten people (from ten different backgrounds) can have ten different ways to achieve the end result. But you can’t expect to lean on the fact the user gets some kind of experience, no matter what anybody does and not expect a snicker.

    Some times when people call B.S. it’s just because people are bullshitting.

    • Karen McGrane says:

      You’re making a related but different point from my argument.

      Gerry McGovern says that there is no such thing as content strategy. Ryan Carson says that UX professional is a bullshit job title. My point is that declaring an entire profession invalid is harmful to our industry. More specificity in role descriptions is necessary for taking on larger, more complex endeavors, and thus moves our profession forward.

      You’re outlining an approach to identifying whether a particular UX professional has the necessary skills to do the job, or is bullshitting about their qualifications. I agree that some UX people are unqualified, but that is true for any industry. You identify some ways to screen candidates that are appropriate for you, in your environment or culture. Other organizations may require different skills or methodologies from their UX candidates; this does not necessarily imply that their approach is bullshit. Insistence that one’s particular flavor of UX is The One True UX is a recurring theme in DTDT debates.

  3. J.S. says:

    Let me clarify or elaborate my point. Why doesn’t this article DTDT?

    Could. Good place for it. …Just doesn’t.

    Let there be a graphic artist with a good definition of what UX is and how they achieve UX goals. Let that definition be different from, say, an intormation architect or somebody else, that’s fine. Let there be a dozen definitons, and debate on where and when to use one over another.

    Good stuff. I had wished to read yours here. Alas, I am dissapointed. But let us not think your UXers aren’t defining themselves — with prevarication, by dancing around edlessly, by talking about DTDT and getting through an entire article without DTDT.

    That’s the alpha and omega of my point. Not some unified consensus position — that’s fossilization and atrophy.

    Let there never be another article which talks about DTDT and does what I have seen repeadtly in UX — dancing around DTDT with truly transparent ploys.

    • Karen McGrane says:

      Well, in this case, I wrote the blog post I wanted to write, instead of the one you wanted me to write. Better luck next time.

      If you wish to engage in DTDT debates (I do not) I encourage you to visit any of the UX focused mailing lists on the internet.

      • J.S. says:

        “Well, in this case, I wrote the blog post I wanted to write”

        Yes. Exactly. Thank you for making my point.

        “If you wish to engage in DTDT debates (I do not) I encourage you to visit any of the UX focused mailing lists on the internet.”

        Small design suggestion: Turn off comments. They seem to be getting in the way of the “experience.”

        Yeah. They are of the same opininion — uniformly and consistently — as you. I am not looking for a debate about why every last UX person refuses to use specifics, refuses to define a methodology, and refuses to specify a technique different from usability. So far, to a one.

        However, unlike some, I shall continue my test. Unlike many, my goal is the experience of being pleasantly surprised.

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