Addiction recovery programs are based on admitting the illusion of control over the addictive behaviour, the harmful things done as a result, and releasing yourself from the need to control. We, as User Experience practitioners, demonstrate a lot of issues with control. We often want to control everything about the product because we feel we have a unique perspective that makes us most qualified. We are the Chosen Ones.

(I have great respect for recovery programs. Still there’s a lot we can learn from addicts’ behaviours. If we really were addicts:

  • We’d neglect our responsibilities at school or home because of our obsession with UX
  • Our UX practice would get us into legal trouble, such as arrests for disorderly conduct, driving while wireframing, or stealing to support our software habit
  • Our UX practice would cause problems in our relationships, such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of old friends


I’m about ready to start a chapter of User Experience Practitioners Anonymous with its own twelve steps, starting with: “We admitted that we were powerless over user experience – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

The proof: We are addicted to excitement. We are passionately devoted to designing the best digital/software/service experience for users, despite constant slaps in the face:

  • Not included in discussions about which user problem will be solved –the key part of creating software users will want. Often we watch helplessly as the solution leaps, fully formed, from the forehead of a product manager who is relying on articles and secondary and tertiary research. They haven’t talked to customers to find out what their problems are. Bring on the Maalox.
  • Not included in discussions about which features are added to the backlog; often not even being involved in the prioritization of the backlog despite doing the usability studies that highlight critical issues. Atavan, anyone?
  • Not included in discussions about which of the prioritized features included in the MVP or are built – beyond product management prioritization, the effort to launch and support the feature must be considered in the decision as well. I’m out of drugs to prescribe. How about alchohol?
  • Having no control over how your work is advertised or received by users. We can only, at best, control what we offer. The usual: if someone is having a bad day, or they resent dealing with your organization (utilities company, telecomm, or any government bureaucracy), it’s going to be tough to make anyone happy. At best, we can minimize the pain they have to endure.

Despite all this, we keep going. Then, we are held accountable for the success of the end user experience.

The even crazier thing is, we agree to these terms of engagement!

The answer to this problem is contained in the Serenity Prayer; not surprisingly, it plays a big part in the recovery movement. Choose your God and go from there:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s easiest to change yourself; it’s most difficult to change the culture of your organization. The first step is admitting you have a problem.


2 thoughts on “Powerlessness

  1. Pingback: Mea Culpa; Learn From My Mistakes | Understanding Clients

  2. Oh my gosh. I found you when Paula Howell linked to you on Linked in and now I’m laughing and giggling at your blog posts. Every agency person needs to read this!! Loving it.


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