Earlier this year, I attended Internet Week New York; an event centered around the world of technology and startups that helps to uncover and expose new thinking and trends in the industry. I was one of a handful of UX professionals that attended over the week, something that I think should change.
As UX designers, we are focused on our world. We come up with new ideas around the type of work we want to do, the type of companies we want to work with, and the type of products we want to work on. Many times this thinking points us in the direction of the explosive world of startups. This happens because in the world of startups we see the ability to break out of the political and corporate molds and really define the design process to be used as well as the product to be built. Finally we can use all the methodologies and techniques that we have been reading about and, even better, the products and websites are so cool!
However, we are not doing our best to insert ourselves into this world and thus aren’t seeing the benefits of working in it. At times, we are expecting startups to come to us, instead of us going to them. Afterall, these startups are the people that need our expertise right? Wrong. Startups and more flexible businesses aren’t sitting around waiting for UX knowledge to descend on them. Instead they are doing work, and a lot of it, which helps them to get their product ideas out the door and into the hands of users so that they can either exit (get acquired or IPO) or get more funding. Don’t get me wrong, they would love our help… who wouldn’t? But because we aren’t inserting ourselves into their ecosystem and learning the ins and outs of their world, we are too much of a risk to add to the team. We come in with all these ideas and methodologies that work, but don’t know how to cater them to this particular field, and thus it can take us alot of time to come up to speed. And, in the world of startups, this is precious time that they don’t always have.
Thus, if we want to be a part of this exciting environment, we need to begin to learn about and become a a part of the culture. Part of this is attending events like Internet Week (or whatever local entrepreneurial events are available) and observing and asking questions. Also, take the time to reach out to people in the startup realm and interview them about what being in a startup means, really means. What are their goals, needs, tasks (sound familiar. Personas anyone), and then think about how what you do or want to do may or may not fit in with these needs goals and talks, or work to enhance them.
Only by becoming aware of this culture can UX really be helpful and succeed within it. Otherwise we are just applying apple thinking to an orange environment. By coming up to speed with technology, product and business work in the startup world, and understanding how you can affect that world, only then can you begin to join it and be successful in it.