I Wish It Were This Easy.

In the interest of continuing a fair and balanced dialog about what I think is a very serious issue, I feel compelled to write a response to “How Bad UX Killed Jenny.”

TL;DR: Fixing the bad UX that can potentially kill people — and already has — is going to be a very difficult task.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t time to start.

When I read Jonathan Shariat’s article this morning, I experienced what can only be expressed, in a classic Twitter-in-cheek way, as ALL THE FEELINGS.

I had ALL THE FEELINGS for several reasons:

    • I worked at the Oncology Nursing Society for 12 years. I started out there as a copy editor and eventually ran software projects.
    • The article directly links oncology nurses struggling with a complicated user interface to the death of a patient.
    • ONS offers a Chemotherapy Certificate course that helps ensure oncology nurses who administer chemo are trained, certified, and prepared to handle not only the drugs, but also the emotional side-effects of living with cancer and undergoing cancer treatment. Chemo nurses who work in many hospitals and out-patient clinics are required to take this course.
    • The nurses referenced in the article may be people I know, or have met at a conference over the years. Regardless of the personal connection, I know nurses like them. I have hugged them. And I understand them.

Shariat’s article is deservedly successful for several reasons. For one, it has a great title, and even if I wasn’t passionate about UX and healthcare, I would have read it. In addition, it gets the conversation started. And that’s what we all need.

I see the solutions, however, as more nuanced.

Industries that could use the help of talented designers and developers — and my list of these is growing, from insurance companies to school districts to departments of motor vehicles — need help understanding why our work is so dearly needed. Leaders in these organizations have to understand the need, and place importance on it.

My struggle with the recommendations to do something — and I do appreciate the call to action — is that we need to do more than apply for jobs at these organizations and speak up. We need to find a way to influence and inspire the leaders who run them.

Because without that, and without the support from the top, it’s sadly too easy for talented, passionate people — people who care so deeply about a company’s mission that they will work nights and weekends to make it happen —to get very burned out.

It happened to me and it is happening to others.

Please get those jobs. Please redesign things. Please start it up and speak out.

Go to UX Conferences. But take your boss with you.

Hold a lunch event and watch Jared Spool speak. Invite the CIO.

Design a great site. And then find ways to measure — preferably in dollars — how this new design can positively influence the “bottom line.”

Test that great new site with real users. And ask the CEO to watch the session.

Because our designs can’t do it alone. And neither can we.

We need support and buy-in from everyone in the C-suite, everyone who signs the checks, develops the strategic plan, and sets the priorities.

This will be the hard part, but it’s the most necessary part.

Your great designs will come, and then — and only then — will they be able to make the difference we all need them to.

Thanks for getting the conversation started.

I love you all.

Unless.

Unless

Three weeks ago, I tendered my resignation at the company where I’d worked for twelve years. I spent nearly a third of my life there. When asked if I’d considered “not going out with a bang,” the answer was no; but my bang wasn’t in any way destructive.Driving in on my last morning, I found the right way to say goodbye. Below is my farewell letter to staff.

As I cleaned out my desk this week, sorting through twelve years of creativity, project plans, pencil-drawn wireframes, and printed-out emails scribbled with ideas, I had a chance to reflect on my time here. I’ve been given many opportunities to influence the course of the organization, and for that, I’m very thankful.

I’m thankful for A., who hired me, and who listened when I brought up the idea of making our employee newsletter into a website. I’m thankful to K., who gave me a server to host it on, despite her puzzled look when a copy editor came and asked for this. These events changed the course of my career here, and as time would tell, the course of my life.Over the years, I’ve been told that I care too much. Thing is, I can’t stop caring. I can’t stop caring about an organization like ours.With that, I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts.

Always fight for quality.
Anything less doesn’t count. Remember that everything we do, everything we say, and everything we put out on the Internet is competing against posts on Facebook, funny stuff on Twitter, and emails from Target, ASAE, ASCO, and everyone else for our customers’ attention and time. Make it good. Make it as good as possible.

Admit your mistakes.
We all mess up. We’re supposed to. And we’re supposed to learn from those mistakes, have a laugh, and move on. If you mess up, admit it. Fix it. Learn from it. I’ve had some epic fails during these twelve years, and each time I’ve spoken up, admitted my mistake, and moved on. If this is scary, it shouldn’t be — it’s liberating. I don’t hide the fact that I have a strict intolerance for errors, but I’m sure this letter has a copy edit or two that I’ll notice later, maybe tomorrow. But I’m human just like the rest of us, and it’s OK.

Listen to each other.
Don’t discredit the voice of reason simply because it speaks with emotion. If you’re in a meeting with someone who seems upset, there’s likely a reason. Chances are this person is feeling something that she or he is afraid to say; seeing something in a different way, despite what the group is discussing; or wanting to contribute but can’t find the words. Talk to this person and listen. Find out why. Because the people who show emotion are the ones whose personal goals align with the goals of the company. They care, and they have a passion for what we do.

Take it personally.
We all should. Yes, it’s “just a job,” but it’s a job we should all care about. To quote Erin Brockovich (Soderbergh, 2000):

Ed Masry: PG&E is demanding 90. In other words, everybody. Do you understand? This is serious.

Erin Brockovich: And what, Ed? I’m not serious?

Ed: You’re emotional; you’re erratic. You say anything, you make this personal, and it isn’t.

Erin: Not personal? That is my work! My sweat! My time away from my kids! If that’s not personal, I don’t know what is.

Remember that the work we do touches the lives of oncology nurses. These brave men and women hold the hands of mothers, brothers, dads, sisters, and kids during the most difficult times of their lives — and often, at the end of their lives. Remember that our organization helps nurses, doctors, and patients, and the work you do every day touches them in some way. Remember this, and do the best work possible.

By the time many of you read this, my account will be disabled, my years of service plaque will be removed, and my work here will just be a memory. Please keep in touch.

If you’d like to say hi, you can email me. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Polar, SoundCloud, Vine, and whatever other social network crops up that seems cool and offers something new and lets me log in with an existing account.

I also have a personal website, kateda.ly. It’s responsive, so it’ll work on the mobile device of your choice, but the desktop version works nicely as well.

Goodbye, and good luck.
Kate

References

Dr. Seuss. (1971). The Lorax. New York: Random House.

Soderbergh, S. (Director). (2000). Erin Brockovich [Film]. Beverly Hills, CA: Jersey Films.

Support oncology nurses with a gift to the ONS Foundation.

This essay was originally posted on Medium on November 27, 2013, and has been backdated accordingly.