UX and the wild west

Published: March 1, 2018

I'm not a huge fan of westerns, but I've seen my fair share on TV growing up. My kids have no interest in the exploits of the long forgotten cowboys and Indians. Their battlegrounds are futuristic landscapes with imaginary beasts and weapons fired using a game controller.

The wild west frontier was defined during a wave of expansion in America that tamed wild lands and unknown cultures. It was an era of massive migration with chaos and anarchy leading the way to the establishment of community, and law and order.

In some ways, the landscape of user experience seems to be a similar setup. Over the past decade, or so, the UX community has tamed wildly inconsistent user interfaces and unintuitive user flows. While we may not be gunslingers with a posse, we come armed with agile methodologies and dedicated design teams.

Prior to the widespread adoption of user experience in software and web design, brave frontiersmen established tried and tested methods of user-centered design. Empathy combined with observation led to a better understanding of the untamed landscape.

As with conquering the vast lands, there are many unknowns at the start of any new UX project. Designers are typically outsiders riding into a new town, looking for folks who can help understand the problems. But plans are afoot to quickly identify the main townsfolks and cultivate the landscape to meet their needs. With the end-user in our sights, we target and test using prototypes that visualize the future over the horizon.

Corralling agreement from stakeholders and users, we establish the foundation of civil discourse - law and order, where chaos once ruled. Good, thoughtful and well executed design establishes a system, an organization of repeatable patterns, that can tame unruly complexity and bring prosperity through its simplicity.

Whether in the Wild West or Wall Street, design systems and pattern libraries bring order to the lawlessness of untamed software development. With these systems in place the UX designer can ride off into the sunset - off to the next rough and tumbled application, ripe for some bronco busting and cattle herding.

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