UX Theatre: The Poster

In January 2018, I wrote a Twitter thread about how some user experience projects tend to pay lip service to user-centered design rather than being actual user-centered design. I used the term "UX Theatre" to describe the phenomenon. Based on the reaction online, it seems that this is a common occurrence across the industry. People responded with emotional reactions, sharing their own UX Theatre stories, and thanking me for putting a label on it.

I followed up in March 2018 with a more fullsome blog post, UX Theatre: Are You Just Acting Like You're Doing User-Centered Design? which added more detail and examples to the tweetstorm.

This year, I created a poster which details the issue, lists symptoms, and provides actionable recommendations that we, as UX practitioners or leaders, can use to help prevent or correct UX Theatre. I presented it at the Information Architecture Conference 2020 Poster Night, and invited people to stop by and tell me their UX Theatre stories. It seems you all have at least one. (I'm sorry.)

And now I am sharing the poster so that other UXers can have it, whether for snark, commiseration, or to help in the fight against UX Theatre. I have licensed the poster with the same Creative Commons license that I use on all of my content, so you can download it, share it, print it, put it up in your office, and otherwise use it as you please for non-commercial uses. (See below for more information)

Summary

UX Theatre is easy to define. It's the application of any sort of design methodology without including a single user in the process. UX theatre is becoming more prevalent as executives learn the term user experience but their teams aren't empowered to do all the work that UX entails. 
  • We see it when UX is a bolt-on at the end of the development process - “Now that it’s done, have the UX person look at it.”
  • We see it when project teams *think from a user perspective* as in, they role-play using assumptions they make about user behaviour based on their own experiences with their tool.
  • We see it when phrases like "Everyone is a designer" are interpreted to mean that anyone can do - or worse - lead design.
  • We see UX Theatre when the requirements are make believe and no users are involved in the process. When "we think" becomes a substitute for "we saw" and "we heard." 
So what can we do about UX Theatre as designers? UXers are actually in the best position to fight against UX Theatre because the role of UXer seems to be evolving into a hybrid of design delivery and change management. The role of the UXer is to evangelize for UX now. 

So why does that fall on our shoulders? Why can’t we just design? Because our practice is nascent and we are still in the educating phase, proving the value of design in order to be given the permission to design. We can resent this reality or we can just see it as part of the design context. Before we can research, design, develop, test and iterate, we need to advocate.

Designers don't always have a say in how projects are structured or run, but we can advocate for doing things the right way. Even if we don't win every fight, by speaking up we can influence the culture over time and put an end to UX Theatre.

Poster

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Share your thoughts

I'd love to hear if the UX Theatre poster resonates with you, if you have similar experiences, and if the poster is helpful to you. Ping me on Twitter @spydergrrl


A note about the Creative Commons license on this poster

Creative Commons License
This poster created by Tanya S. (@spydergrrl) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Feel free to re-share, re-use, re-work with proper attribution, for non-commercial uses.

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