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Michelle Brown
Michelle Brown

Akendi Alumnus

Beware of UX Charlatans

The television faith healers of the digital era.

The Rise of the Charlatans

A lot of companies are becoming more familiar with the terms “UX”, “User Experience”, and “Usability”, and this is great! There’s a growing community of people who are beginning to see this as an essential part of the design process.

However, as the demand for these services has grown, the number of companies and people claiming they can do this work has grown as well.

With the rise of fakes, how can you tell who you should hire?

The Charlatan Warning List

Here are some signs that the “UX specialist” you are talking to probably is one you should stop talking to:

1. They say they can make your program “easy to use” and “user friendly” but have expressed no desire to talk to users.

This should be setting off warning fireworks.

How are they going to make something that is “easy to use” without finding out about the people who are going to use it?

You can’t magically make a task easy for everyone. Humans are not all the same, they have different abilities, backgrounds, and desires. You must find out about the humans you are designing for before designing for them.

As I’ve mentioned before, the situation that the design will be used in, completely changes the design.

Best practices can only get you so far. They can save you from making common terrible mistakes. They can’t save you from making uncommon terrible mistakes.

Best practices don’t make you the best. You need to do research.

So, anyone who claims that they can understand someone they’ve never met, should probably list clairvoyance as another one of their skills.

2. They suggest focus group usability testing.

There are so many things wrong with this. It’s like evaluating your sports training program by taking all the participants to a sporting event and asking if it looks like they could do that.

Bad idea.

The data you get back from this is going to be all over the map. You’ll have people overestimating their abilities, underestimating their abilities, and trying to match their opinions to the group.

A better approach, for both your sports program and your software program, is to see if users can reach their objectives. Test participants one at a time to see if they can complete tasks.

This will let you know if you did a good job in your design and what specific areas need to be fixed.

In brief: anyone who suggests focus group usability testing has no idea what they’re doing.

3. User experience is treated as an add-on to software.

It makes no sense to work on the user experience after building the software. That’s like telling a construction team to build a house without a blueprint. Sure, they might make a structurally sound home, but it’s unlikely to be the kind of home that was needed.

User experience needs to be involved from the beginning to the end. At the beginning, to help determine what we are building, and at the end to assess what was built.

If you tack user experience onto the end of a project, then it’s far less effective and more expensive. It’s harder to modify a built house than it is to change a blueprint.

Treating user experience like this is showing that you don’t understand it.


Charlatans are hardly exclusive to this field. Many people around the world in a variety of professions overstate their qualifications.

It can be a difficult process to determine if the person you are trying to hire is qualified, especially when you are hiring someone outside of your speciality. However, these three questions above provide basic warning signs to watch out for.
Michelle Brown
Michelle Brown

Akendi Alumnus

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