The co-option of UX

“Carrier IQ Says Measuring Mobile User Experience Does Matter!”

The above headline is from a statement the company released on November 16th. If you aren’t already aware of what Carrier IQ does, read about it here.

It’s unsurprising, but disappointing, that a rootkit manufacturer is defending its actions under the guise of “user experience”. In Cennydd Bowles’ Closing Plenary at this year’s IA Summit, he predicted the upcoming dilution of that phrase within our field:

Our most pressing problem is that of pollution. The user experience discipline has become so broad that anyone can now legitimately claim to practice it. Literally every designable object or service engenders an experience. However, its most common interpretation is narrower. “UX” is fast becoming the latest synonym for “web design”.

The explosion in our industry’s influence, pay and respect is devaluing our chosen term and causing looming quality problems. Since demand far outstrips supply, web agencies and freelancers alike have created a land rush to the UX term. The skills that underpin the work have often been left aside in the melee.

I understand that Carrier IQ’s statement is probably PR bullshit that is unreflective of the company’s actual culture. But if they do mean it sincerely, I wouldn’t be surprised. For large, incumbent companies like cellphone carriers, business goals can sometimes be outrageously out of step with consumer desires and expectations. With a sufficient degree of isolation, it can be surprisingly easy for an organization to justify to themselves that Carrier IQ offers a net benefit to the user. They’ll reason that since they know customers want fast, reliable cellular networks, any software which enables the carriers to meet that standard is a good thing.

These companies overlook the fact that experience design is holistic. Improving one facet of the customer experience (network performance) is totally futile if it comes at the expense of another (personal privacy and data security.)

Forget about all the insane legal ramifications of Carrier IQ for a second. What’s even more dangerous than the software is a group of well-meaning people in a company out of touch with its customers, all agreeing that installing this software on their phones is a good idea.

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