‘Old School UX’

Will Ferrell as “Frank the Tank” in Old School

Lately, I’ve been hearing several colleagues in the UX field classifying others (or themselves) as ‘Old School’ – a UX traditionalist whose beliefs and practices are steeped in some sort of ‘seasoned system’ of process and deliverables. In some of these conversations, they compare and contrast the ‘old school’ person with ‘new school’ folks; someone whose approach bypasses a traditional way of thinking when dealing with UX.

Call me naive but I always believed there was no division. As a UX community, we were united as a discipline where our ideas, practices and approaches yielded the same end result: a rewarding experience for our customers. And it was up to us as individuals to determine what practices and tools worked best for a given project or organization. But hearing the term ‘old school’ made me wonder: is there an unintentional (or intentional) rift forming based on feedback coming from the UX community?-?denouncing certain industries and their UX practices, the?premature ‘death’ of certain UX deliverables,?the search (and our professional evolution) for the elusive UX unicorn?– are these becoming the catalyst for division?

With this question, I decide to tap into the larger UX community to gain some additional insight.?So I posted this question to the User Experience Group on LinkedIn in the hopes of getting one or two perspectives.

Over a few days, I received over 50+ messages about this topic, more than I could have ever imagined. The comments ranged from acknowledgement of the division, clarification and definition around ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ and concerns about how we can move past these terms. If you are a member of the User Experience Group on LinkedIn, please take a look. Here are some of the highlights:


From?Stephen Beck, Founder and CEO of Engine Digital Inc.:

There seems to be two emerging directions within UX: the academic / best practices approach (which seems to fit the ‘old school’ label) and the opposite, which is more focussed on knowing the rules and how/when to break them. Seems like the academically-driven UX strategist is less motivated to innovate and more focussed on creating experiences that fall inline with the expectations of a more traditional UX perspective. That could very well be the right approach in some cases, but it won’t likely lead to innovative ideas that ultimately set the bar for new standards. In my opinion, both approaches are necessary, but i’d rather work with a UX person/team willing to bend the rules to create something that challenges the status quo.?

David Groff, Partner/User Experience Director at?Smackerel:

These days I’m more likely to hear “old school” used disparagingly. For example, the other day someone attacked Jakob Nielson’s review of Windows 8, saying he was too “old school” to get the new UX. You’re right that there is no division, just divisive words.

Rachel Wilcox,?Web Content Developer at GM Financial/AmeriCredit:

Determining whether a UX is successful or not is subject both to the goals of the company, as well as to the needs of the specific project.?A UX designer who has only one way of approaching development in terms of what they personally consider is successful, will only succeed some of the time.?You must step outside your own boxed way of thinking, listen closely to what is truly needed, and be sensitive to the culture and audience you’re working for. Flexibility is the key to success – project by project.

And our own?Mark Badger, UX Director at Roundarch Isobar:

Whether considered old-school or not, the activities and deliverables required to generate excellent user experiences can be grouped into three categories: those that help us design the experience, those that communicate the design, and those that validate the design. For example, in this context, the debate between the value of annotated wireframes versus hi-fidelity prototypes is either moot or ridiculous. The choice depends on what are you trying to accomplish (design, communicate, or validate) for which audience(s) and under what constraints (time, talent, budget, location).

In the end, UX is an evolving discipline — one that requires us to be flexible in our approach, being adaptable to the demands of technology and advancing the discipline to meet the needs of our intended audiences whoever they may be.?And as UX practitioners, we shouldn’t be quick to denounce a certain process, activity or deliverable as out-dated or unwarranted; instead recognize it as one of the many tools we have available when planning and designing an experience. For with every new project or product, it provides us with an opportunity to use, reuse or refine a vast array of UX methodologies, processes and artifacts that are available to us. And regardless of years and/or level of experience within certain sub-disciplines (IA, statistics, usability testing, etc.), we all can learn more about UX — it’s too broad of a discipline to be just focused (or comfortable with) a few key activities or deliverables.

So maybe we should drop the term ‘Old School’ from our vernacular.?For UX practitioners, school is always in session.

But what are your thoughts? Should we be concerned with this division? Or is it a mute point?