Is UX an ethos?
by Ali Carmichael, Managing Director and Owner

Is UX an ethos?

I’ve been working in the digital space since 1999 and have seen trends come and go, and many that, quite rightly, remain for the long term. I was first introduced to UX via a usability test 20 years ago. My colleague arrived with a huge suitcase of kit, I have no idea what was in the case, but it set up a day for our very first usability test.

In 15 years of running a UX consultancy, I continue to witness the penny drop when stakeholders observe usability testing. It is a marvel to behold. However, in many organisations (as noted in our survey last year), UX is still lacking the time and budget required to execute its value fully.

On reflection, I can see how arguments in favour of UX fail to create the desired traction. In the early days of Experience UX, I was so dedicated to a user-first approach that my positioning was heavily emotional. My passion shone through, but my argument lacked balance so any audience that didn’t share my passion had a reason to push back. I’d then get frustrated that people didn’t ‘get it’, whilst never being able to explain what ‘it’ is. Ironically, I was failing at being user-first in my approach!

UX is an ethos

What I thought was an aside, but turns out is related, is a frequent conversation that UX is an ethos, not just a skill or a job. There is an ethical heartbeat to being user-first and for anyone who cannot feel the pulse, it is hard to justify the investment of time and money when so much else is vying for attention.

To help us, we can use ethos as one of three (according to Aristotle) primary modes of argument:

  1. The ethical appeal (Ethos)
  2. The emotional appeal (Pathos)
  3. The logic appeal (Logos)

In my early experience, I lacked any balance between the three modes of argument. Instead, my pitch was emotional and was left trying to appeal only to my audience’s emotions (pathos). What I can now see is that I must balance the ethics, emotion, and logic of an argument, whilst appealing to my audience’s ethics (ethos), emotions (pathos), and logic (logos).

Ethical Appeal

To present you and UX as trustworthy and credible. At its most basic you must demonstrate your background and professionalism. For UX, it is doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do, and we can introduce its history, i.e., Henry Dreyfuss’ 1955 book – Designing for People, the growth of UX, or the value UX plays in the design systems for the leading companies in the world.

Emotional Appeal

To evoke feeling. Here you can present your personal position with regards to UX. For example, as we are human and we are creating products and services to be used by other humans, why not involve said humans in the research, design, and testing process. Carefully relating the story to your audience, as they are also human, will appeal to their emotion.

Logical Appeal

To build your case you must walk your audience, step by step, through to your position using case studies, data, results and research to validate your ‘argument’. Here you might present an issue with your app, walk through the various failed attempts to improve, present a similar problem that was resolved after user input, etc. The aim is for your audience to arrive at the same, user-centred conclusion.

In action

In the final presentation of a recent pitch, I was asked, “Why should we work with Experience UX?

I could have reacted with ethos (we’ve been around a while and we have worked with great clients), with pathos (because we believe in what we do, we live and breathe this stuff, etc.), or with logos (here are lots of results we’ve gained for our clients).

Instead, I took a deep breath, I talked about UX as an ethical heartbeat, I walked through our journey to reach this position, I presented our success and the value of UX as an ethos, and I returned to the ethical heartbeat and why this was equally important to the client team and their project.

Two hours later we received an email saying that we were the chosen provider.

Trying to remember these Greek-based words (ethos, pathos, logos) might be a bit much for everyday conversation, but what we do need to remember is to present a balanced argument, always. It becomes clear that any endeavour to encourage more UX in your projects will be better placed by including the primary modes of argument and appealing to your audience’s ethics, emotions, and logic.

UX Consultant Emma Peters

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