Kill Big Words

Each day they are in my Twitter feed, on Facebook, on Hacker News: Articles, suggesting to embrace failure, to develop empathy as an UX research skill and to treat design holistically.

They seem like useful advices. They may come in the best intentions.

Just do it

But the only thing these texts say, is: »just do it«. Nice. This may be a good advertisement slogan for Nike but it is hardly a good way to help others along in learning these skills. Your skills will not improve by reading some lines about »get out of you comfort zone« or »empathize with your users«, even if the paragraph before says that it is a core skill, a future job requirement and that somebody did great by doing so.

complex skills

These skills are pretty complex – so getting to know that one should do this and stop that is the least of your problems. Rather than to know that one should »develop empathy«, it may be difficult for a designer to overcome ones own shyness (no, »don’t be shy« may be along the lines, but is not helping here, either), how to convince one’s boss to reserve time for contact with users or how to ask questions in a way that leads to interesting answers.

I think we would be better off as a design community, if we would avoid using big words and phrases like »develop empathy« and »embrace failure«. They are meaningless and vague for those in need of advice and not needed for those who know the teachings already.

»How« instead of »What«

Instead, we should make up our mind of how one can practice and learn what is behind these lofty expressions. So how instead of saying »develop empathy«, ask yourself how the novice could start the journey towards it. For Example: How could a designer overcome they fear of talking to end users? How can one ask questions which lead to interesting answers? This would not be solved by other big words which replace the vagueness by obscurity. Instead, we need to give down-to-earth advices that are actionable, can be reflected, discussed and compared with own experiences. This can be done by real world examples of successes and failures. We should share clear step-by-step instructions as well as illustrate wicked, intertwined problems that are not to be resolved by exactly theses step-by-step guides.

It may be less lofty and and will need more words and images of the everyday kind. But by doing so we can actually help each other and our discipline instead of only pretending it.