EquilibriUX and the Balance of Voices in UX and Product Design

EquilibriUX and the Balance of Voices in UX and Product Design

By Guest Contributor Date: April 01, 2024 Tags: SUNY Press Authors, SUNY Press Editors

Guest post by Amber Lancaster and Carie S. Tucker King, coeditors of the new book, Amplifying Voices in UX

During a collegial conversation about UX in 2021, Amber energetically called for balance, and Carie, laughing, said, "Oh, like equilibrium." Combining equilibrium and UX, we devised a portmanteau term equilibriUX, that started our planning process for this new collection of research. Our goal was to address concerns for unbalanced and divisive perspectives that unjustly fail in designing for users. We aimed to highlight UX practices for more inclusive design that considers and empowers all voices.

Not everyone has appreciated the term; it seemed too trendy, it was difficult to say, and it created confusion. We disagree. We believe that discussions around technical communication and around UX typically lean into our science counterparts. For decades, our field has borrowed methods, terms, and principles from other fields, particularly science and social science fields, to expand our ability to research and explain our own principles. EquilibriUX does just that: it brings together the scientifically defined balance that prevents destruction resulting from stress and the technically defined UX focus to show that interactions between people, technology, and designs can also create "explosive" responses. As designers, we aim to avoid those responses.

As we expanded our ideas, we realized that intersectionality challenges the concept of balance in design. Raised in a lower-middle-class family and the daughter of a factory worker, Amber experienced the effects of the 1999 explosion in the Ford Motor Company’s Rouge Plant, and her research of the case revealed failed UX with fatal consequences. A military daughter and then spouse, Carie has lived in 26 homes, two countries, and multiple cultures. She was blessed in the military community to be a military officer’s daughter and to benefit from her father’s rank, but she was challenged outside that community because of the lack of tolerance that she experienced. We recognize that our unique upbringings and experiences have a myriad of influences shaping who we are as designers and UXers.

As our collection started to take shape, we also noted voids in the voices addressed and acknowledged in design processes. A central theme of our collection, we aim "to extend UX design practices beyond translating and tailoring for local users to broader global users, while considering the diversity of user uniqueness, customization desires, all stakeholders, and social needs" (p. xiii). Even more recently, we are examining voids of localized communication for informing (and even protecting) visitors to unfamiliar areas and activities. We see a lack of concern in design for the experiences of seniors and aging populations, particularly when they need to engage with technology that has not considered them as users. We appreciate the term glocalization but recognize that this term still infers a physical localization and sometimes overlooks other categories, identities, and voices in expanding the usability of design and the consideration of users using that design. We also petition designers to consider “glocalizing” their designs to expand the characteristics of users, rather than limiting the specific qualities of the production design.

In seeking to establish this balance, we need to establish communication as an iterative process—one that is never complete. As we develop new technologies and as people’s needs shift and sway, designers need to be flexible and shift their designs to meet needs. In that way, UX requires an ever-evaluating and reflecting approach to design and to audience evaluation—not only to create competency of users but also to maintain their ability to effectively use designs.

In moving toward equilibriUX, our field will need to be a conduit of empathy, relationship, awareness, and observational research. We are eager to see how UXers and technical communicators respond to this collection.

Amber Lancaster is Associate Professor of Communication at the Oregon Institute of Technology. She is Director of Professional Communication and Associate Editor for Communication Design QuarterlyCarie S. T. King is Clinical Professor, Director of Rhetoric at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is the author of The Rhetoric of Breast Cancer: Patient-to-Patient Discourse in an Online Community.