User experience talk has surged recently, even in development circles. Yet despite this trend, most apps, websites, and software remain monstrously annoying, frustrating, and hard to use.

I just returned from a swank development conference, chock-full of people who’ve forgotten more about advanced code than I’ll ever hope to know. Augmented reality to the left of me, security frameworks to the right.

That’s what I signed up for. I expected big data and sophisticated algorithms. I did not expect the recurring themes of user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) that dominated all keynotes and nearly every presentation.

“Enhancing user experience” was openly proclaimed as the key to nearly everything. I heard terms like “users” and “usability” so much I wondered if I had wandered into a UX conference. One keynoter even spoke of “intuitability,” apparently an actual word.

Does this mean we’ve turned a corner? Have development firms embraced user-centered design? Are they hiring UX professionals and making digital products differently? Will apps, sites, and software become less horrible and maddening?

Maybe.

To be sure, some of the tools at the conference felt easy to use and behaved less…developer-y than expected. There’s hope.

However, most interfaces still exhibited clear signs of a developer-centric approach. Interaction seemed subservient to functionality and oblivious to UX best practices. As a result, some products felt eerily as if they had been made solely by developers. Of course, they probably were.

Attendees talked about users, but they did so as if by rote. “We did this for the users.” “The users will appreciate this.” “This will enhance the (sigh) user experience.” After a while, it all sounded like something ambitious chat bots might say. I didn’t get the sense that many teams were engaging, researching, or testing actual users.

Why do we talk like UX is more important than oxygen but continue to treat it as an afterthought?

If our actions matched our words, the world would be awash in easy-to-use apps, sites, and software. And we all know that is, to put it mildly, not the case.

Are we indulging in mere lip service and buzzwords? After all, “Experience” seems to be all the rage. Maybe next year we’ll say something else. “Story,” perhaps? Wait, that’s already been done.

I prefer optimism. The clarion call for better user experiences is sincere. Development organizations are coming to the earnest realization that strong user experiences mean strong digital products. This realization simply hasn’t yet permeated real-world development processes. The tsunami of experience talk is aspirational, we lag in follow-through. This stands to reason. Changing entrenched methods is uncomfortable, difficult, and slow-going. “Enhancing user experience” is easy to say but hard to do, especially if you’re not quite sure how to go about it.

The trends are positive, but color me impatient. If words don’t lead to actions, what use are they? Technological evolution means little if users continue to face the same impediments time and time again. Following old methods will surely yield the same old results. When will development firms transition from talking to doing?

It’s time to stop talking about user experience and start doing it.

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About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

We’ve found the best of both worlds: an even balance of tooting the UX horn at great meetings and implementing it at work.

Author: @ExperienceDean 
Graphic: @ExperienceDean
Editor: @baileysendsword