Why UX Needs the Debate Experience

If you haven’t heard, there is now a UX Debate Club in New York. This freshly minted Meetup group has already had its first meeting and planning is underway for more. But you may be wondering do we really need a UX debate club? What is there to debate about User Experience? Is there even anything debatable about UX? And those are all fair questions that I will address.

The first rule of UX Debate Club is to talk about UX Debate Club!

But, what is debatable?

Before starting the group, I did what any User Experience person would do, I spoke to potential users. I started with the question, “if there was a Design (digital — UX, Visual, UI) Debate Club, what topics should be debated?” One answer I received can be summarized as “mostly nothing.” The reasons given were that User Experience design is based on psychology which is science and thus not debatable, some aspects of design are subjective and debating those areas would be useless. The one area this person did allow would be open for debate is process. This did not bode well, but I moved on to asking others what they thought of the idea and the advice I got was basically to start a group and see if anyone joined. So I did, and people joined.

During the group’s first Meetup, we examined the question “Is there anything debatable in UX?” — along with a host of other topics covered in a spirited and lively discussion. Besides a unanimous vote that yes, indeed there are topics within UX up for debate, a few themes became clear, included were:

  • The role of UX within organizations
  • The meaning of UX titles — are we using the right language or frame of reference
  • The relationship between UX and design, in particular graphic (or visual) design, and the need, or lack of need, for design skills
  • The relationship between UX, UI, IA, and the rest of the alphabet soup that makes up our industry
  • Is UX a thing unto itself, a set of skills, or a role
  • Unicorns — lots of questions and debate around the subject of unicorns
  • Psychology and how it is referred to and used in relation to UX
  • How to debate with business owners and engineers to support your UX findings

But, why start this?

The topic of why to start this group and how the idea came about also came up in the Meetup. There are four main reasons for starting the group:

1. Dogma is a scourge and fighting it demands vigilance.

The enemy of any movement or profession is dogma. We need to continually examine and reexamine the cornerstones and pillars of our profession to be sure they still hold water. We need to constantly look for new ways and measure their worth against trusted established methods.

2. Sometimes presenters say the damnedest things.

Usually, I love what people have to say on stage. Sometimes, I don’t agree, but respect the presenter’s opinion. Occasionally, I’m left wondering what the hell. I heard one speaker spread FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and another spout of something that was factually incorrect and easily researched. When this happens at a conference or Meetups, it is usually not appropriate to challenge a presenter’s thesis without looking like…well…a jerk.

Look, I understand that speakers and presenters are human, and all humans can make mistakes. But we are a profession that prides itself on being research and data driven with roots in science, so we should be able to handle a little fact checking and resist cherry-picking research to some degree.

3. UXers like to see people’s thought process and how they arrived at their conclusions — plus, we generally prefer our activities to be participatory.

A debate, particularly one based on the Oxford format, is a great way to do all of the above, allowing us to collectively look at problems, questions, or theories from both sides. It allows a way to challenge ideas (not people) in an open forum while having fun and shed a light where and when we need it.

4. Battle navel gazing by bringing in outside perspectives.

Any profession runs the risk of becoming too insular. UX borrows from many fields, and it would be great to invite people from those fields to debate how we are doing things. For example, how do Customer Discover and user research mesh? Or, how good are our data collection skills in usability testing when compared to data collected by an applied behavior analyst — both are measuring human responses.

What can I expect at UX Debate Club

A no holds bar battle royal, where two UXers enter and one leaves…actually, it’s not like that at all. It’s a night of UX shop talk with some passionate, but moderated discussions on the topics that we care about. While these are still a work in progress, here are the rules:

1. Talk about UX Debate Club. Share your ideas and feedback. Most importantly, tell others.

2. Have fun, but keep it civil — we challenge ideas, not people.

3. An Oxford Style debate format is used, which looks something like this:

  • Before the start of each debate, the moderator will announce the topic (for debate geeks, the motion) and introduce the debaters
  • Audience members will cast a pre-debate vote on the motion as “for” (agree), “against” (disagree), or “undecided”
  • Each debater presents an opening statement
  • The moderator takes questions from the audience with inter-panel challenges
  • Then, each panelist delivers closing arguments
  • Finally, the audience delivers their second (and final) vote for comparison against the first.
  • A winner is declared based on which debater has swayed more audience members between the two votes.

Coming soon

Just to give you some idea of what’s coming up next, a few of the topics in the works are:

  • “Unicorns are they real and are they the future?”
  • “Does User Experience suffer from a User Experience problem?”
  • “Personas versus Jobs to be Done.”
  • “Who owns the Users! The Founders, Marketing, Product, Community Support, or UX?”
  • “Is there a divide between the agency view of UX and the product team view of UX? If so, does it matter?”
  • “Is UX filled with junk psychology? When is the ‘science,’ not really science at all, or brings little value even with it is.”
  • And more.

Be sure to signup for the UX Debate Club if you are in NYC to learn more about it and get notifications about the next Meetup. If you are visiting NYC, we’d love to see you at a Meetup. Interested in participating as a debater about a topic you are passionate about or have a topic suggest, please see our Google form.

The UX Debate Club is off to a great start with a lot more to come. Providing the UX community an open forum for examining ideas and practices.