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5 ways to spot fake UX

For marketing and design agencies, UX seems to be the new ‘digital’. Everyone wants to be seen to be doing ‘it’, to know about ‘it’, to offer ‘it’.  But really, how many of them are actually any good at ‘it’?

Done well, UX offers endless benefits. For the business, the consumer, the middle man, everyone - regardless of whether the thing in question is a physical service, an online shop or a piece of software. Afterall, great user experiences will always trump bad ones. Customers will return if they found the process easy and enjoyed the service you offer. If they didn’t enjoy it, next time they’ll head to your nearest competitor who, thanks to the internet, is easier to find than ever before.

The Dawn of UX

“The main value driver in the future economy will be user experience. Not only will UX be a key differentiator between premium-priced products and commodities, but it will also be the only way to overcome the productivity languor that’s currently plaguing advanced countries.”  Jakob Neilsen


A 100 year view of user experience by Jakob Neilsen


We’re extremely happy that UX is enjoying its heyday. It’s our core business and something we’re passionate about. The more businesses that understand its benefits and want to apply it to their own products and services, the better. We have a fantastic community both in Bristol and online. There are some great agencies doing great work all around us.

There are also plenty of people making it up as they go along and charging for it too, discrediting those of us who are doing things well and ripping off their clients. That’s not ok and it needs calling out.

Cue our 5 ways to spot fake UX:

1. Agencies claiming to ‘do UX’ but never involving users in their design processes.

Too many times now we’ve come across agencies offering UX design on their websites but in practice, not including users in their design process, let alone doing any research beforehand. This is a huge no no for us because if you don’t involve users, it’s not UX!

Our advice if you’re looking for an agency which offers UX design? Be sure to ask for case studies and examples of how they’ve incorporated user feedback into their recent work.

2. Using UX as a buzzword

This is something which really gets our goat here in the office! Adding UX to a job title, article or home page because it gets you the SEO hits or makes you more attractive to clients is never ok. The world is big enough for everyone to have their niche and do it well.

My view?  Being a graphic designer is just as valid a profession as a UX designer. They serve slightly different purposes but equally great in their own ways. You wouldn’t say you were a surgeon when you’re a first aider so why say you’re a UX designer when you’re not? Stick to your niche people!

Be especially vigilant to this if you’re hiring freelancers on places like peopleperhour and upwork.



3. Just doing wireframes and calling it UX

Wireframes alone do not a UX design maketh. They are a useful structural map of how a website or software should be laid out, before the content and visuals are added. Wireframes are often used as part of the user centred design process, taking feedback from users and inputting it into the ‘blueprint’.

They are also used by designers without involving users and that, my friends, is not UX design. Used in this way, a wireframe is nothing more than useful blueprint for something which is yet to be coloured in but as I mentioned in my first point, if it’s not involving users, it’s not UX.

For a quick overview of the basics, read this article from Adi which covers the three simple rules of user centred design. Alternatively, hop over to YouTube to watch our UX Easy episode on wireframing.

4. UX conferences and events with no UX people speaking

Recently, we were contacted, no hounded, by a Bristol-based conference and events company (who shall remain nameless but share a name with a terrible local nightclub) to exhibit and speak at their upcoming UX show. On asking the usual questions like ’who else is exhibiting?’ and ’who are the headline speakers?’ it became clear that this was not a UX conference at all but a marketing show masquerading as one.

As I’ve mentioned already, there is a vibrant and mature UX community both here in Bristol and in London, and to not see a single known name or agency on the list rang alarm bells. I’ve since spoken to someone who attended the show and my assumptions were correct. It turns out it was a completely different show with an extra ‘UX themed’ entrance and a couple of stands from people offering market research, customer training and such like. The only agency there with UX in their offering somehow don’t, it turns out, involve users in their process. Groan.


5. Failing to change the design based on findings from user research

User centred design is just that. Design with users at its core. Decent agencies and UX consultants will be iterating based on research. We use Lean UX, working in 2-3 week sprint cycles which involve both design and testing until the final product is ready.

If the user testing happens once, at the end of the project, for example, you should be wary. Is that feedback going to be incorporated into the final product?

Another thing we sometimes hear is that the product owner (through their passion and investment) assumes they know everything already and do not need to speak to users.

Expertise and understanding are no substitute for user testing. They of course, have their place in the process, but should be backed up by proper user research that tests ideas on the people who will actually be using the end product.

Rant over

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. You’ve allowed me to get something off my (and the collective team) chest.

Long live UX and making our daily interactions with e-commerce, services and software easy and enjoyable to use! We all want to live in that world but please, if you’re on the look out for UX services don’t get fooled by those out there and make sure you know the best ways to spot fake UX.



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