Uncertainty Principles

Deborah Levinson

Introduction: impostor syndrome – uncertainty at a personal level, and its parallel to uncertainty at a business level
What do I mean by “uncertainty”?
the state where we cannot tell whether the decision we’re about to make is the right one from any number of perspectives – ethically, financially, personally, and so on
Uncertainty can hold things up, can result in endless meetings, can result in the wrong decisions being made because people feel under pressure to come up with the right answer all the time, on demand
Uncertainty leads us to make decisions out of fear
We’ve been talking about uncertainty as a negative. But it doesn’t have to be.
Getting comfortable with uncertainty
Uncertainty is a fact of life, a condition of reality
What if we think of uncertainty in design and development not as a terrifying state, but as a hopeful one? One where if we learn to embrace it as a fact of life, and a fact of every project, we can instead build plans for resolving uncertainty? For rapidly identifying it, owning it as a fact, for coming up with a way to address it as best we can, and lather/rinse/repeat as needed, even if it means coming back to the same problem again later?
This kind of iteration is fundamental to user research. If you aren’t asking questions, developing theories, testing solutions, and learning from them, you aren’t doing your job. You cannot be an effective UX designer without bringing people in all their messiness into the mix.
Types of uncertainty
uncertainty about behavior
uncertainty about business model
uncertainty about IA
uncertainty about codebase/module/DB structure to enable feature set and longevity
uncertainty about user maintainability
Designers: getting comfortable with uncertainty makes you a better designer. Embrace it — learn from it — bring others in to get them excited about problem-solving
User research – insert project & other examples here (I have some in mind)
Uncertainty in development: agile vs. waterfall
(Planning to interview some developers, some of them Drupal folks, about how uncertainty factors into their work)
How is our discomfort with uncertainty failing us?
Uncertainty involves a willingness to learn, but we aren’t always good at prioritizing what we learn from it.
Where is the software industry failing to account for uncertainty now, and how is it screwing us over?
Using software to work around a people problem
Prioritizing profits over people and ethics
Where do we go from here? Well, resolving uncertainty is all about asking questions ...
Develop plans for resolving issues (plans for each type of uncertainty, UX & dev)
Get used to saying “I don’t know” and “I’m going to have to look that up” and “Let’s ask our users”
Managers: understand that this isn’t always about needing more time for a project, but it is about understanding that projects encounter issues that need to be resolved on a rolling or iterative basis
It’s okay to doubt yourself. Well, it’s not great, but it’s not unusual. But don’t doubt your ability to tackle a problem, with help if needed.


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