• Issue #58

Great UX isn't about you.

Three cool students with sunglasses looking frustrated at what they see on a laptop screen. Theyr'e standing in a busy quad area on a college campus.

Web design is hard. Web design that serves a business function is even harder. The hardest is working on web designs with other people who consider themselves creative.

That might sound harsh, but in my experience, self-proclaimed creatives are the most difficult people to work with. It isn’t because their idea is bad or they have poor taste (well, sometimes it is); they often approach web design as an artistic endeavor, a way to express their creative preferences, usually ignoring that they won’t even be interacting with the product.

Ego is the opposite of good UX

Want to know the secret to great UX, though? It’s not about you as the designer the business owner, or the client. It’s not about you at all.

That “U” in UX and the “C” in CX — those letters stand for people who are not you. And the only way to get good design results is to ignore yourself and listen to them.

I was talking with my friend Ron Bronson about this on a design podcast we are working on together. And, as usual, he distilled it down perfectly:

We have to think beyond human-centered design or this idea that we can empathize; instead, we need to decenter ourselves and listen to the people we’re building for. By better understanding, we can build selfless products that respond to actual user needs.

The sheer audacity to think the things we like are the same things our users, clients, and customers like would be seen as a major ego trip anywhere else. Why do we think it’s excusable in our own work?

This is evidence of a severe character flaw, and we’ve seen it play out across higher education for decades. Carousels, homepage videos, audience navigation, news on homepages, and non-contextual giving appeals. The data says these things hamstring an excellent user experience, yet they are still the most prevalent trends in higher ed web design.


Believe it or not, UX design is not a subjective practice. We aren’t out here just thinking up cool-looking things to make on the web. In fact, most UX designers have spent years disentangling their own biases from the reality of user feedback. We put checks in place to ensure we aren’t projecting our own assumptions on design but are growing our understanding of what “good” design actually is.

My hot take is this: degraded experience design has held higher education back from explosive growth.

A lot of the digital problems that plague our higher ed websites stem from degraded user experience design:

  • Want better search rankings? Speed up your website and fix your content
  • Want higher conversion rates? Improve your user journey and speed up your website
  • Want your content to perform better? Put a thorough content strategy in place.

Notice none of those solutions include adding more videos or pop-up discount offers.

If you think about the mega universities — those top-performing institutions everyone thinks of — none of them have a homepage video that automatically loads. They all follow a content hierarchy based on research and data that Bravery and other design agencies have proven time and again.

The proof is in the people

Do mega universities have something the rest of us don’t? Well, huge budgets… but apart from that? They conduct research and act on it. There are no gut feelings there.

The point here is, again, UX is not about you. It’s not about the college president. It’s not about your faculty. It’s not about saving political capital.

UX is about other people. Your UX will improve if you take them seriously and listen to their needs. And when your UX gets better your enrollment increases. And when your enrollment increases, you make more money, which increases budgets, which can then be reinvested in improving that UX even more.

[Insert excuses here]

I get the political struggles. I really do. When I worked at Trinity International University and Greenville [College] University before that, I had to fight tooth and nail to do good work. It’s exhausting.

Don’t try to do that on your own! Introduce me to your boss and your president or chancellor. I’ll tell them the truth and sing your praises to them.

If you’re already in leadership — check your mirrors. Once your competitors catch on, it might be too late to try and fix things.

Great UX and CX have to be selfless. I guarantee that shifting focus from “the institution” to the user will change your business and support your mission for the better.