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Ben Nadel at Scotch On The Rock (SOTR) 2010 (Munich) with: Christian Etbauer and Harry Klein
Ben Nadel at Scotch On The Rock (SOTR) 2010 (Munich) with: Christian Etbauer Harry Klein ( @kleinh )

The User Experience (UX) Of User Experience Meetup Groups

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As an engineer and a product designer, I've been to a large number of technology meetups and a decent number of design and user-experience meetups and workshops. The quality of presentation in both groups is very good. But, I've noticed a distinct difference in the user experience (UX), if you will, between the two sets of attendees. The engineers seem to be much more critical of presentations while the designers seem to be much more positive and laudatory in their response.

For example, these are the kind of statements that you might hear from audience members in an engineering oriented meetup:


Engineering feedback at user group meetings.  

These statements and questions aren't negative, per say, but they are certainly critical. You might not even think about it, though, until you go to a design oriented meetup where the temperature of the room feels very different. For example, these are the kind of statements that you might hear from audience members in a design oriented meetup:


Designer feedback at user experience meetup groups.  

Some of these statements are a bit tongue-in-cheek. But, only a little. This is actually the kind of feedback that I hear people provide in a design meetup. And, I definitely feel myself having the same kind of reaction. At an engineering presentation, I find myself thinking critically - almost negatively at times - about the topic at hand while, at a design presentation, I often do find myself having many of these warm and fuzzy feelings.

As a product designer, I craft user experience and I solve business problems. I feel like I have a good sense about white space, layout, and interactions. But, I am absolutely in no way a graphic designer. I don't understand colors. I don't understand typography. All of my InVision prototypes are done in grayscale with the Helvetica Neue font. So, for me, when someone gives a presentation about full-fidelity design, there is a sort of magic to it - there's a certain degree of "secret sauce" that I know I'll never be able to achieve myself.

But, I don't think that my lack of graphic design ability is what drives the difference. After all, I hear designers giving the same kind of feedback to other designers - a context in which the skill divide is not so great.

I think a big difference between design and engineering is that there are many more unknowns in an engineering problem. Can it scale horizontally? What happens if you run out of memory? What happens if you run out of disk space? What happens if you run out of threads? What happens if a 3rd-party API fails (or worse, hangs indefinitely)? Can you deal with invalid user input? Can you deal with malicious user input? Are you exposing a cross-site scripting vulnerability? Can you cope with a "Slash-dot" or "Product Hunt" traffic spike? What happens if one of our systems goes down? What happens if there's an error in the middle of a transaction? What's the "right" way to rollback?

Engineering is both exhilarating and terrifying (and holy cow, I love it so much!).

When it comes to a user experience, what you see it what you get. The experience is the experience. There are very few "what if's." Of course designes have to think about variable size screens, responsive design, browser capabilities, and accessibility. But, that's more a question of surface area and less so a problem of random chaos.

Now, I am in no way trying to say that design is easier than engineering. It's not - it's just different. I could never in a million years do the things that our designers at InVision App are doing. I'm constantly blown away by the ever-improving design of our product. Every time they drop a hot update, I'm all but enraged with jealousy over their sweet-ass skills!

But, the interface that looked amazing in a design comp doesn't always translate to an amazing user experience. And, you can't really know that until you get the design into an InVision prototype and start clicking through it. And this, I believe, is the reason that the feedback provided by engineers is so different from the feedback provided by designers. Designers have to work at two completely different levels - the visual experience and the interaction experience. At a design meetup, you as an attendee only have the luxury of dealing with the visual component of design which is where that magical "Ooh Ahhh" factor resides. As such, it's no wonder that the feedback is so much more positive.

When it comes to product design, the visual experience and the interaction experience are, at the same time, both allies and enemies. This makes the complexity of user experience (UX) design very different (and in some ways more challenging) than the complexity of engineering design. Which is why I think the feedback at design user groups feels so different from the feedback at engineering user groups.

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I believe in love. I believe in compassion. I believe in human rights. I believe that we can afford to give more of these gifts to the world around us because it costs us nothing to be decent and kind and understanding. And, I want you to know that when you land on this site, you are accepted for who you are, no matter how you identify, what truths you live, or whatever kind of goofy shit makes you feel alive! Rock on with your bad self!
Ben Nadel