Embracing not knowing

Guest post by Kevin Hollingsworth, Cooper UX Boot Camp student

As a project manager who wants to transition into UX, I have been trying to absorb as much knowledge about design as I can. I’ve been reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts and cornering seasoned professionals at industry networking events. It’s been fun and I’ve learned a bunch, but the real learning about this kind of work happens hands-on in teams. I knew I needed to practice in a real project with the guidance of experts, so I turned to Cooper’s UX Boot Camp.

When I arrived at UX Boot Camp Monday morning I quickly realized that there was great depth and breadth of experience in the room. It felt great to be surrounded by people passionate to learn more about user experience. Once we started collaborating, though, it became clear that despite the skills everyone was bringing to the table, advancing a concept would be anything but smooth. As we began to consider solutions for the class’ nonprofit client, Women’s Earth Alliance, we each rushed to fill the void with our own ideas. It may sound counter-intuitive, but our concepts made the biggest leaps forward when we stopped, stepped back and admitted that we weren’t thrilled with our current ideas and weren’t sure how to proceed.

In those moments when we had exhausted ourselves, our personas and research really started to pull their weight and carry us to the next level. These tools of the trade, personas, research and brainstorming exercises, not only make for a more holistic product for end users, they also take pressure off team members during the development process. I learned that in order to be successful at UX, you need to be an expert at putting your “expertise” to the side. You should have confidence that your methods will allow an answer to rise from your efforts. I like to think about it this way: a user experience designer is like Batman showing up at a scene of distress with his belt of tools.

If a UX Designer is more like Batman or James Bond, then Cooper U is the weapons division of MI-5. They taught me activities and techniques that help create buy-in across all stakeholders and bring about an inclusive solution that is emergent rather than prescriptive. Much of what is written about user experience focuses on the output of a project, on the attributes and features of a well considered product or service. Less is written about how stakeholders actually achieve the feeling of shared certainty toward a concept. Perhaps it is because design is messy and calls for iteration. Whatever the reason, companies seeking to innovate need to know that there are reliable techniques available to their teams, and that not knowing exactly what the answer should be isn’t a problem but rather an invitation to step outside of yourself to find new ways forward.

Find out for yourself

If you want to learn how to embrace not-knowing (and gain a hefty toolkit to help you through the ambiguity), check out Cooper’s upcoming UX Boot Camp…held on Alan Cooper’s 50-acre organic farm!

UX Boot Camp, Petaluma, CA – Oct. 8-11, 2012

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