• The Pernicious Effects of Advertising & Marketing Agencies Trying To Deliver User Experience Design

    [[UPDATE: After the remarkable traffic and response this has generated, I have written a follow-up that better explains some of the motivations behind this post. Please read it after you read this.]]

    This is a glorious time for folks who work on designing for user experience. In the past couple of months, I’ve spoken at or attended conferences dedicated to mobile, converged digital media, and “the next web,” and again and again you hear from executives the importance of great user experiences.

    In many ways, this is validating — at Adaptive Path we’ve been dedicated to demonstrating the value and importance of user experience for nearly 10 years. (Personally, I’ve been speaking and writing about it for nearly 15.) With such interest, it’s no surprise that there’s something of a landgrab taking place among firms who claim to do great user experience work.

    Many of these firms come at it from an honest place. A desire to make the world a better place, and a recognition that improving user experiences can do that, even if only in a small way.

    And then there are the advertising and marketing agencies.

    Coming from a background of communicating marketing messages to consumers, these agencies have found themselves expected to do user experience work, because oftentimes corporations have their marketing departments involved with anything that touches the customer. Also, early websites tended to be marketing vehicles. As those vehicles got more complex, it was recognized they needed UX disciplines like information architecture and interaction design involved, and so agencies grew UX capabilities in order to deliver that service.

    The thing is, these agencies do not come at user experience from an honest place. Ad agencies, in particular, function on a set of precepts of that runs wholly contrary to good user experience practice.

    What follows will probably be variously considered sanctimonious, self-righteous, sour grapes, or just bad practice. This post really is about a deep frustration with seeing my friends join such agencies only to find themselves miserable, and working with clients who have had terrible experiences with such firms, and because of that are suspicious of any form of consulting.

    In a perverse way, I also find ad agencies to be instructive, because it’s one of those situations where the best thing to do is pretty much the opposite of how they practice.

    As such, I have collected a number of ways that ad agencies (and, to a certain degree, any “interactive marketing agency”) behave in ways that lead to worse work, unhappy employees, and dissatisfied customers. Ad agencies aren’t the only firms guilty of what follows, but they practice it to an extent unseen anywhere else.

    The Poisonous Core

    When criticizing ad agencies, you have to begin at the core — advertising, as it is widely practiced, is an inherently unethical and, frankly, poisonous endeavor that sees people as sheep to be manipulated, that vaunts style over substance, and deems success to be winning awards.

    Customers are sheep

    Ad agencies, by their nature, see people first and foremost as consumers, or, as Jerry Michalski once said, “a gullet who lives only to gulp products and crap cash.” Advertising and marketing perspectives give priority to the client over the clients’ customers, to the degree that it’s acceptable for advertisers to encourage people to behave against their own interests if that’s what serves the client. Responsible user experience practice has to take a more balanced approach, trying to simultaneously serve both client and end-user, and look for those opportunities where their desires align. If anything, because experience requires honest empathy, and a desire to empower and enable people (not manipulate), user experience tends to favor the end-user over the client, sometimes to the client’s chagrin.

    Employees are cattle

    When your core values are so distorted, your practices follow suit. Ad agencies are notorious for exploiting, and then burning out, their employees. Employees are expected to work long hours, work weekends, and exhibit a willingness to drop anything in order to serve a client.

    Agencies do this because of focus on an internal metric – utilization rate. The greater that percentage, the more hours billed, and the more revenue generated. Unfortunately this leads to another bad practice, which is an expectation that designers will work across multiple projects.

    User experience projects are complex and take over your whole brain. Those who work across multiple projects inevitably favor one, which means the other work gets short shrift. Also, when employees are expected to bill 90, 95, 100 percent of their time, there’s no opportunity to acquire new skills, recharge their batteries, or other practices that helps people get better at their work.

    Clients feel jilted

    Such poor treatment of staff is a big part of the reason that ad agencies end up dissatisfying their clients. Clients are sold a shiny flashy bill of goods by slick senior folks who are then never to be seen again. In their place are squads of junior and mid-level designers, working across multiple projects, with little chance to reflect and improve their skills. This means worse work.

    Also, ad agencies, drawing from their legacy, have an us-and-them relationship to their clients. Just watch Mad Men or read Where the Suckers Moon to see what I mean. This comes from a background in communications work, where you get a brief from the client, go away and do your magic, and the try to deliver something that wows the client. This model utterly breaks down when designing for user experience for two reasons.

    1. The nature of the user experience problems are typically too complex and nuanced to be articulated explicitly in a brief. Because of that, good user experience work requires ongoing collaboration with the client. Ideally, client and agency basically work as one big team.

    2. Unlike the marketing communications that ad agencies develop, user experience solutions will need to live on, and evolve, within the clients’ business. If you haven’t deeply involved the client throughout your process, there is a high likelihood that the client will be unable to maintain whatever you produce.

    Related to this is one of the most absurd ad agency practices, “the pitch.” As part of a sales process, ad agencies will often spend tens of thousands of dollars, and heaps of people’s time, to demonstrate how they’ll solve the client’s problem. The idea that you can credibly address a client’s concerns before you’ve actually started working with them is ludicrous, and, frankly, damaging. It undersells the magnitude and importance of our work, suggesting that hard problems can be tackled in such trivial fashion.

    Team relationships are skewed

    One thing I haven’t yet touched on is the legacy ad agency practice where the art director and copywriter are the voices that matter, and the rest of the team exists to serve their bidding. This might be fine in communications work, but in user experience, where utility is king, this means that the people who best understand user engagement are often the least empowered to do anything about it, while those who have little true understanding of the medium are put in charge. In user experience, design teams need to recognize that great ideas can come from anywhere, and are not just the purview of a creative director.

    The folly of leading with brand

    As clients realize that their problems exist across multiple channels and platforms that should work together (web, mobile, retail, collateral), it’s common that they look to their ad agencies to help them deliver services across these channels. However, when you approach it from the viewpoint of marketing, where “the brand” is the top priority, you’re designing from the inside-out, and the results is a superficial gloss, where brand standards and visual identity are consistent, but there’s no appreciation for how users actually behave in these different contexts, and there’s no attempt to coordinate internal client teams to work in concert.

    And, to put it bluntly, ad and marketing agencies, for all the reasons mentioned above, are perhaps the people least suited to choreograph a truly satisfying and empowering customer experience across channels. Yes, the logo and typography might be consistent, but that’s insufficient.

    Ad agencies are the new music industry

    While I would like to think advertising and marketing agencies can evolve their practices to appropriately engage in user experience problems, I believe that the industry’s DNA simply cannot support such mutations. I’ve witnessed 15 years of agencies flailing (and failing) in delivering good user experiences, so there’s no reason to expect them to change.

    Such agencies have been able to hang on because Chief Marketing Officers and other executives are trained to buy marketing services from them, and they see user experience as simply another marketing service. I foresee generational change, when the current crop of CMOs retire, and are replaced by people who grok how things actually work. When that time comes, and it will, ad agencies will find themselves marginalized, as it becomes clearer that manipulation and media buying is not nearly as important as an honest engagement with customers through delightful and desirable experiences.

    I will not mourn their passing.

    [[As stated above... UPDATE: After the remarkable traffic and response this has generated, I have written a follow-up that better explains some of the motivations behind this post. Please read it after you read this.]]

    [[Update two: I've made a very light edit that removed the very charged phrase "soulless holes." For the sake of legacy, I want the focus of this piece to be on the bad practices, not name-calling.]]

    There are 122 thoughts on this idea

    1. GlennIsaac

      Brilliant, and eloquently put.

      And I thought the sad fact that print designers were calling themselves “web designers” or “interaction designers” was the worst. Really, and I agree with you, it’s part of a larger trend, that likely, won’t end until a new generation takes hold of the reigns of power in corporate decision-making.

    2. Dave

      Bang on the money. Every word rings true.

      I’ve experienced it first hand. At first the company makes progress with these agencies- after all the finished product seems to be ‘focused on sales’ and has a lovely glossy exterior. In fairness they tend to bump sales initially- but then it flatlines. And they struggle to get over this hump.

      They’ve picked all the low hanging fruit available and then run out of ideas. And worse, they have no real concept of how they’ve arrived here, so there’s no model, no benchmark- essential in an iterative process focused on continual improvement. These agencies have no skin in the game. They simply don’t care. Billable hours and awards from their peers.

      it sneaks up in various guises- “We need to cut through the bureaucracy”, “we need more agile processes”- any excuse to avoid the hard graft and garner instant credibility. They ignore complexity, and worse- totally ignore the customer.

      Used car salesmen. Rotten to the core. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reigning these ******* in and cleaning up after them. Evolve or die already.

    3. Matthew

      Sharp work, sir! Totally worth staying an extra 15 minutes to read.

    4. Cennydd

      Yes yes yes. Took the words right out of my mouth. Bravo, Peter.

    5. Mike

      Surely there must be some ad/marketing agencies that have embraced a customer centric mentality. But either way, I’m sure agencies will balk at this post though I hope they will add their perspective to the discussion.

      For me, advertising and marketing firms (and I’d add architecture firms) prioritize aesthetics, cleverness and attention grabbing tactics over customer concerns when it comes to the web. I’ve been witness to it throughout my career. I’m hopeful my experiences are exceptions to the rule, but given this post, maybe not (although we are a self selecting group at this blog, aren’t we?).

    6. Ariel Waldman

      Completely disagree with the vast majority of this post (I do agree that you work a ton at an ad agency – but you play hard, too). I worked at a great ad agency for 8 years (VML, a WPP company). In my experience so far, San Francisco design agencies are so anti-advertising agency because they stereotype what they think they’re like based on a narrow view of what ad agencies do and, as this post proved, watching Mad Men. The reality is, design agencies are actually trying to move into the same space as ad agencies – but they label it with new things like “service design” so as not to be associated with that which they consider “soulless”.

      Anyway, I could rant on, but I think it’d be a better conversation to have with you (Peter) in person, as I don’t have the energy/time/desire to edit up a proper blog post. However, the anti-ad-agency feeling seems so deeply rooted in the SF-design-agency mindset, I doubt having people who actually have experience at working for ad agencies (or anything else, for that matter) could possibly change it.

    7. Dan Linsky

      As a leader in this industry and a thinker I have held in regard, you have certainly lost some respect in my eyes and those of my team. You should be a proponent of user experience wherever it happens.

      What was your intent in writing this rant? Have you been losing business or employees to digital agencies? While I can’t defend every point you’ve made about agency life, many of your generalizations are simple and narrow-minded. Your view of the ad agency as unethical, shallow and manipulative based on what you see in a TV show is just stereotypical and old skool.

      We see people as people, not sheep. We are people too. Not monsters. Does working at an agency mean checking your soul at the door? We can’t empathize with people the same way you can? We can’t engage and empower people the same way you do? What is it about working as a consultant that heightens your ability to understand your user?

      At this agency in particular we have gone to great pains to build a strong, talented team of experienced and educated UX practitioners who proselytize the practice throughout the agency and our community at every turn. The agency spends a great deal of time and money ensuring that we are happy, recharged, involved in the community, attending the educational forums, and constantly learning and involving ourselves in the practice. Some of that money has gone directly to you and the conferences hosted by Adaptive Path.

      Sure, sometimes we work long hours – you probably do too – likely for the same reason: we’re passionate about the work we’re producing; not because our creative directors are standing over us, demanding that we bill 120%.

      I challenge you to find one of our clients who feel jilted or dissatisfied. There is no room to leave a client unhappy in this business. This idea of bait and switch, selling in the work of senior creatives followed by garbage produced by juniors is just showing your ignorance and obvious distance from our business. We partner with our clients as much as possible and bring them into our process. We do not pretend that our work is magic. The pitch process is to demonstrate how we think about solving problems. No one expects a game-changing solution overnight and we don’t pretend to have the answer without following the proper process. We don’t rest on our laurels nor our name.. we are challenged to prove ourselves each and every time.

      I hesitate to dignify your entire paragraph on “the folly of leading with the brand” with a response. Not one element of that bit is true.

      It’s clear that you have not been in a digital agency for over a decade and have almost no clue of the type of work we’re creating or the process by which we produce it. You have slandered our teams as hacks and discounted what we are bringing to the practice, without which it may not be such a glorious time for your business and profession.

    8. Matthew

      It’s good to see at least one person disagreeing with you Peter. I’d like to see this view published to a wider audience.

      In my mind, business is driving a more customer centric approach generally, and this is forcing a changed approach by everyone, including ad agencies. To say UX companies are the only ones capable of thinking from the customers perspective is not correct. It’s great to see UX thinking and process be internalised in ad agencies and in business’ internal teams.

      This POV comes across as righteous/sanctimonious, and runs the risk of alienating UX and creating disconnect between UX and business.

      Also, FWIW, I’ve seen enough examples of UX consultancies working with utilization and burning out their employees!

    9. Andrew

      I recently finished an internship with a design studio, and was encouraged by everyone there to pursue the “agency” world as a sort of trial-by-fire/10000 hours fast route to building my skills as an interaction designer lacking any junior positions there. I recently began a job at an agency where, to that end, a lot of what I’ve been doing so far has been wireframes for the graphic designers to build around, but I’ve fairly aggressively (successfully too, as far as I can tell) insisted on doing things properly (as I define it): creating prototypes both paper and interactive, writing user narratives and personas, and insisting on working things out both individually and collaboratively before even touching omnigraffle. Basically all the things that are “design,” instead of just documentation thereof.

      I enjoy the constant challenges that I’m encountering in this work environment, and the IxD director has been fantastic in giving me room to pursue these methods, while also providing guidance and suggestions on areas to focus on. I’m being asked to design things that I’ve never encountered before, and I’ve used so many post-it notes in the process that I’m beginning to feel guilty about my impact on the environment. But when it comes down to it, part of my job as an Interaction Designer is to act as an advocate for the user and to be ethically conscious in my role as a mediator of goal, desire, and objective. If asked to do something unethical in the name of marketing or branding, my answer has been and will continue to be “No.”

    10. Oregon

      Yes, the Nazis were horrible! All Germans, hell all Europeans, are EVIL!

    11. Jacob Smith

      I would have to agree with Dan, you can read my response here.

    12. George Murray

      Ariel and Dan, I can understand your backlash to this inflammatory rant of a post. However, you can’t say that this feeling rose out of nothing. A lot of people identify with the sentiment in this rant and from personal experience, myself included. Maybe I was at the wrong agencies and have witnessed the wrong set of advertisers labeling what they do in ways that didn’t make sense to me. In addition, unfortunately so far, it seems not many “service” or “experience” designers have actually seen any progress being made – and when it is pointed out or attempts are made to mix processes, it seems that “Team relationships are skewed”.

      I’d love to see this happen (UX become part of ad campaigns), and I’ve personally tried to find common ground at an agency where I thought my job was to do just this but to no avail. So maybe we all just need to focus on the success stories which are…

      Finally, I’d point out the slow inclusion of “digital” in ad campaign budgets. Advertising is a large, structured industry with a lot more money in it than the UX industry. It has taken decades for “digital” to become part of the archetypical campaign story. User experience may have a similar road ahead of itself in advertising, so we might want to give it some time.

    13. Leigh

      I think you make the same mistake as many trad. ad agencies and are saying the same thing that digital shops have been going on about for 15 yrs (and that i disagreed with back then and still do).

      In your world, experiences are designed only around the customer and Brand is seen as a shallow representation of look and feel. There is a co-created space of brands and customers that can not only create competitive differentiation at a DNA level throughout a companies organizational culture including meaningful UX.

      In a networked world, marketing and customer experience are inextricably linked. Thinking of it as some agencies and clients do – as a department – a budget line – a campaign – is as foolhardy as believing in its singular importance.

    14. Daniil Vinokur

      Now that the initial sycophantic back-pattery has died down. I am anxiously awaiting your (Peter) response to the criticism.

    15. Matthew Talbot

      I wasn’t brave enough to put my full name to my comment earlier, hah. Glad to see Peter and Adaptive Path getting a good shake up over this. Look forward to the response.

    16. Dan Baker

      The agency I work for is a “soulless hole”. So there’s another point for your dataset.

      I really appreciated this post on a lot of levels (one being i’m feeling very cynical today) and Sam Ladner thanks for your input. I’ll be reading your blog.

      The point of Advertising is to sell a product. And there are a lot of problems with the manufacturing, distribution and marketing of products which ad agencies must ignore or gloss over to generate that all-important ROI. Are all agencies evil? Probably not. Can all agencies be more user-focused? Absolutely. I think agencies will not go away, but the smart ones will adapt and fold the best of UX theory into their design departments.

    17. Pete

      Leigh, I’m second guessing Peter’s point somewhat but I don’t think he is saying that Marketing and UX should be at all separate.

      The difference (as based on my own experience) is that, what the hell, most Ad/Marketing agencies have zero concept of UX or IA – bring it up with them and they’ll look at you blankly. It’s not just that they think it’s unimportant but that they have no idea what it is in the first place let alone how to do it. It’s the difference between thinking of sites as “pages” in the classic print sense and thinking of them as information delivery systems or tools.

      It’s no doubt also feasible that UX firms are the same way about Marketing and Branding but I feel this is less likely as they are more tangible and familiar concepts. UX is to many, myself included, a somewhat sketchy term that could be said to simply be good design.

      The point being whereas a Marketing firm will design the visuals and build them into a site we all should be considering both the visual and the experience.

    18. Rebecca Rivera

      This is a conversation worth having. Although I’d suggest it might be good to dial back some of the hysteria… In my mind, the good news is that some agencies “get” that user are not a bunch of mindless zombies waiting to buy your crap if you just package it right. They’re partnering with clients to engage customers from product development through to every aspect of the user experience. Undeniably, other agencies are stuck in a time warp. Like the music industry, their days are numbered. But let’s not forget the other side of this equation: clients who stubbornly continue to market to themselves. Bottom line: unmarket or implode.

    19. David Armano

      I sort of love this post. Not because I agree with it or it’s accurate (it’s painted with brush as broad as a pregnant elephant), but there is some truth in it in addition to lots of generalities.

      Sure, SOME agencies burn out their employees and SOME don’t understand the fundamentals of UX. But not all. Having worked at a variety of agencies I’ve seen some of the bad behaviors, but I’ve also worked with folks who could go toe-to-toe with anyone at Adaptive Path. Many years ago at Agency.com (where I worked on functional sites, not advertising) I worked with lots of teams who designed shopping flows, product comparisons, registration processes—all that worked and were user tested with rigor and fairly innovative at the time.

      Outside of my own experience, we’ve seen agencies like R/GA do work on systems such as Nike + (an experience that AP has referenced numerous times) and AKQA contribute to the original XBOX design.

      I disagree with Peter’s vision of the future. Personally, I see design firms like the ones he likely does not view as “souless” take on work that digital marketing firms would have done (see Frog Design). Likewise, I see the marketing firms continue to beef up on UX expertise. It won’t be perfect, but the demise predicted here is likely greatly exaggerated. One man’s opinion.

      All that said, I really enjoyed reading this piece. Makes you think at least.

    20. Jeff

      Great. Now my Happy Friday Delusion has been broken and I have to go forward into my afternoon, fully aware of my own career follies.

      After spending 13 years as a designer, it only became clear to me recently that not only am I widely perceived as a “digital” designer, but one with – gasp – strong inclinations toward user experience. And I’ve been working for agencies for years.

      A subtext to this inspired article (and the resulting thoughtful dialog) is the issue of client services vs. product or service design. I’ve been pushing creative tech teams as “product designers” within the agency context for some time now, and I can state with some authority that my time might be better spent trying to convince people that Sammy Hagar was good for Van Halen.

      It ain’t gonna happen.

      So if you take on the role of Change Agent as a UX-er, you really are a glutton for punishment (like me). An agency doesn’t want to be a product company. And a product company doesn’t want to be beholden to an agency’s directions, though plenty of times the two are intertwined.

      The human artistry and craft in UX, just as with visual design, writing, photography and so on, is often lost in pursuit of profit.

      But who knows, maybe we’ll turn the tide.

      Love this Rush lyric about the changing face of music, culture, and tech. These guys understood what we’re dealing with 30 years ago!

      All this machinery making modern music

      Can still be open-hearted.

      Not so coldly charted

      It’s really just a question of your honesty,

      One likes to believe in the freedom of music,

      But glittering prizes and endless compromises

      Shatter the illusion of integrity.

    21. Joe Olsen

      I can’t believe that Adapative Path would let someone tarnish their reputation as very smart people, by allowing this kind of narrow-minded blather to be posted under their banner. I, for one, am disappointed. I am not sure what your goal was here, but you have successfully made yourself and the firm by association, look simple minded and foolish.

    22. Alana

      Great article and worth the time spent reading it.

      Having worked as a product manager at Yahoo and learnt from some of the best UEDs around (really!), when looking at my time spent working with agencies I just can’t see good UED.

      Some of the biggest issues come from the relationship and the billing format – I.e. If the agency were to receive all the user complaints about the way a website worked (or didn’t) and they had to use the functionality after the bill was paid, they would design very differently.

      Agencies are, on the whole, about branding websites, not functional websites. Users need both – great design and great functionality.

      I have dealt with many agencies and heard from friends in the business and would find it hard to name more than a few agencies that could come up with great UED without my input. That’s a really sad case.

    23. Indi Young

      “Empathy” and “grok,” two of my favorite words!

    24. Chad

      This article is SPOT ON! You rock Peter!

    25. Rebecca Rivera

      OMG people, it’s only marketing. It’s not like we’re talking about cholera, climate change or the discovery of a new planet. Extra points to Jeff for injecting random music references like Sammy Hagar, Van Halen and Rush into the conversation.

    26. Emily Culbertson

      Peter: I’m a longtime fan of AP and a huge fan of your work. This is an intriguing read, but I have a few disagreements with your post.

      - I have not always been a fan of UX work happening outside of UX firms. I wanted the best possible person I could find leading the user experience portion of a project, even at the cost or risk of significant issues moving from UX to visual design due to lack of communication. Having said that, though, the more integrated a team is in working on customer problems, the more likely the work will succeed. Sometimes that means having a design firm or advertising agency doing the work from start to finish. I think that integration imperative is something I picked up from Adaptive Path as well as from my own work. Perhaps that was an oversimplification of your point of view.

      - Good marketing should start and end with advocacy for the customer or the end-user. You may see firms that deviate from that idea, and that’s a bad practice. But idea of marketing, and the idea of UX, flow from the same place.

      - Big agencies don’t hold a lock on the practice of wooing with big names and then disappointing the client by staffing the project with second-stringers. Also, as mentioned above, big agencies don’t hold a monopoly on burnout. So I’d be careful with that generalization.

      - Our job, as a field, is to continue to educate the clients who buy services in the hope that it will improve their own businesses. We have to be an advocate for our clients in the same way that we want our clients to be advocates for theirs. People get what they pay for, and I think the conversation should not be ‘what’s the role of agencies in user experience?’ but ‘what team or workflow best achieves the goals?’ I doubt turf wars are going to get us to that advocacy you clearly want. In the end, failed work is a two-way street involving both the people doing the work and the client who requested it. I’ve failed on both sides of the equation; we all will, from time to time. Sometimes it’s not because the setup is evil: sometimes it’s because the goals are murky or the task is challenging.

      Finally, I don’t see Nick Gould’s response in the comments thread, so I’ll link to it so others will see it:

      http://www.catalystnyc.com/cofactors/2010/11/on-ux-and-manipulation-and-peter-merholz/

    27. Laura

      I’ve worked at an interactive agency for over 5 years and now have been at an experience design consultancy for almost 4. Peter’s article is eerily accurate.

      The only more nuanced argument I would make, and certainly not to let agencies off-the-hook, is that any user experience professional – regardless of setting (agency, consultancy, etc.) – who works on a marketing-oriented project has a difficult time influencing clients to do the ‘right thing’ for the end audience, because, by definition, when it’s a ‘marketing’ project, it’s always going to be about trying to create meaning (or, let’s be honest, creating persuasion) SURROUNDING the product or service in question. The reality is that we as UX professionals should always be trying to get closer to influencing the actual product or service ITSELF. Influencing the marketing around it will only get clients (and, really, the world…not to sound like Pollyanna) so far. It’s an ethical conundrum that I face frequently with clients (‘hey, sure, we’ll integrate your…umm…touchpoints, but can I speak to you frankly about the actual THING it is you are selling’). And this conundrum is irrelevant to whether I’m at an agency or not.

    28. Laura

      http://www.laurakeller.net

      I’ve worked at an interactive agency for over 5 years and now have been at an experience design consultancy for almost 4. Peter’s article is eerily accurate.

      The only more nuanced argument I would make, and certainly not to let agencies off-the-hook, is that any user experience professional – regardless of setting (agency, consultancy, etc.) – who works on a marketing-oriented project has a difficult time influencing clients to do the ‘right thing’ for the end audience, because, by definition, when it’s a ‘marketing’ project, it’s always going to be about trying to create meaning (or, let’s be honest, creating persuasion) SURROUNDING the product or service in question. The reality is that we as UX professionals should always be trying to get closer to influencing the actual product or service ITSELF. Influencing the marketing around it will only get clients (and, really, the world…not to sound like Pollyanna) so far. It’s an ethical conundrum that I face frequently with clients (‘hey, sure, we’ll integrate your…umm…touchpoints, but can I speak to you frankly about the actual THING it is you are selling’). And this conundrum is irrelevant to whether I’m at an agency or not.

    29. Henning

      Wow, it’s like Fox News and MSNBC in here, so I’m going to try and hold my own little Rally to Restore Sanity down here in the comments.

      Full disclosure: I work at Adaptive Path. I’m the Director of Adaptive Path Amsterdam.

      I don’t see how this accomplishes anything meaningful for the cause of user experience WHEREVER IT MAY BE PRACTICED. It’s an unnecessary fight that you have picked today Peter, and I think it goes against many of the things that we value as a company. I agree with many of the comments that have been posted, especially Dan Linsky, Chris, and Jeff. Having had a full day to contemplate this post, I have questions:

      What was the purpose of your statements?

      Does this serve to articulate a philosophy of practice to the readers of this blog?

      How do you see this advancing the cause of user experience?

      I left a marketing and PR firm in 2004 to study and learn about the practice of user experience, because something was missing from the way that I was doing my work and something was missing from the value that I hoped to deliver to my clients. The missing thing was a firm grounding in user experience practice. Sure, my former employers corporate structure created some incentives that didn’t serve users’ as well as employees’ needs particularly well, but that happens everywhere.

      We knew it and did the best that we could. We listend to people like Jesse James Garrett and Jeff Veen and you in order to become better designers and smarter business people. There’s loads of good people doing good UX work in advertising and marketing agencies. Someone rightly pointed out that we often use Nike+ as an example.

      Instead of heading back to NY (land of advertising and all that) after grad school, I joined Adaptive Path because I felt the company was advancing the practice. I wanted to be a part of that. This blog post does the opposite.

    30. alexander koene

      Nice read with a lot of recognizable frustration against the existing ad agency scene. Also many of the cons and pros in the comments are more than valid and worthwhile to read. Seems that the SF situation is similar to the situation in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and many other western world places.

      The world is transforming rapidly and marketing services agencies will follow. A new breed of business leaders will soon be in charge and new types of agencies will emerge. Trying to summarize all this newness around us and how brands should react, I tried to pin it down to the below 4 points.

      1. We see a transparent world full with problems in which love, humanity, and good things are surfacing.

      Brands should seize the opportunity to join this movement and make the world a better place with happy people.

      2. We see new technology connecting people on about anything, anytime.

      Branding is not just a sender-driven game anymore. People are collectively defining what the brand stands for. On the one hand, there are more means for brand owners to reach out and connect with people. On the other hand, it is difficult to control what the communication is all about.

      This paradox should inspire brand owners to fundamentally re-engineer their brand building initiatives.

      3. We see new knowledge about the human brain showing that people’s ideas and behavior are driven by their emotions.

      Brands that really touch people emotionally are embraced in their hearts. Therefore, branding should start with the emotional drives, the rest follows.

      4. We see organizations bloom because people are emotionally connected by a shared inspirational goal symbolized by the brand.

      Branding should have a central role in the organization with responsibility at the highest level and involving all disciplines. Over are the times that brand management and their ad agencies define the brand.

      Lets put our energy in jointly creating soulful brands that make people happy as it gives them belonging and inspiration.

    31. David

      I’ve started and stopped several responses to this article (probably in line with Fox/MSNBC), but feel Henning’s Rally questions deserve thoughtful answers. Eagerly anticipating a response.

    32. Rick Webb

      @Nate Davis – We (Barbarians) wouldn’t know. We’ve never had a profit to give away before. ;) Probably because even though we’re an evil marketing company, we do all of the things Peter says agencies don’t do, like give vacations and keep FTE allocation low and train.

    33. Noel Franus

      Good times Peter. I love the post, even if you’re mostly wrong.

      At the end of the day, the smarter agencies, whether they’re of the ‘advertising,’ ‘marketing,’ ‘design,’ or ‘ux’ flavor, focus on one thing: making meaning. Wherever and however it lives, whether that be in the form of a new product, a mobile-commerce app, a retail space, or a television ad (gasp) that threads the cultural-meme needle.

      As you know, I’ve seen both sides. Good agencies are out there—their clients get it and they respect, appreciate and honor the role UX provides in making that meaning happen.

      Where you’re very right: there are indeed plenty of ad agencies that don’t fall into that camp. Yet there are also plenty of design firms that only Make The Logo Bigger. Plenty of architecture groups that couldn’t give a rat’s ass about flow or experiential narrative (witness: most of the suburbs). Plenty of clients in just about every paying design-related discipline who really care about what people really need.

      The ad agencies are an easy target. Almost too easy. But to paint the entire industry as one and the same is silly.

    34. Bob Cooper

      “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

      - Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180)

    35. Bob Miller

      This is as accurate as any generalization. Which is to say, there are places where Peter’s description rings true, and some where it doesn’t.

      To those who have criticized Peter’s observations, I would suggest that rather than a ping-pong argument of whether Peter’s comments are true or false, we might seek to explore why Peter’s observations occur in some places but not others. Because — this is the part I think we would all agree with — some well-intentioned practitioners are really having a hard time out there. I know many.

      There are a wide variety of people calling themselves UX, and we all share a desire to make life easier for the people who encounter the stuff we create. We believe that this pursuit is not in conflict with the goals of our clients (because it should be easier to consume something that you can also use). So why is it that UX efforts are sometimes stifled? Are UX professionals sometimes over-reaching in their actions? Do we sometimes start with unreasonable expectations? Does UX work seem to some people as an attempt at control what they have struggled to own? And why do some UX professionals feel enriched and rewarded, wheres others feel so frustrated?

      These are ongoing questions, and Peter’s observations simply offer more data. I would only counter that the behaviors are not unique to Advertising and Marketing Agencies.

    36. Gretchen Thomas

      To me, the most striking thing about this post is how upset people seem to be on the subject. Peter has clearly touched a nerve.

      As an agency UX vet gone internal UX, I know that the typical agency culture does not lend itself to UX innovation. It’s a culture where everyone is expected to already know everything, so asking questions is often seen as ineptitude. Unfortunately, the majority of UX work is grounded in asking the right questions, and lots of them.

      That’s what Jeff (#35) is talking about in his comment above when he says “if you take on the role of Change Agent as a UX-er, you really are a glutton for punishment.”

      But Agencies, like the rest of the world, are slowly moving toward user-centered design. If for no other reason, because clients are spending more money on it.

      After all, UX isn’t a design philosophy any more, it’s a cultural shift.

    37. Chris

      Henning, thanks so much for sharing your perspective. It definitely goes some way towards rehabilitating my view of Adaptive Path. And it validates the thought that occurred to me after sharing my initial criticism – this post would have upset me far less had it been on Peter’s blog. I still would have disagreed with much of what he wrote, but would have thought of it as one person’s uninformed opinion. But it was so disappointing to see this on the home page of a company that I have followed and admired for the last decade. And as a practical matter, using Adaptive Path’s bullhorn to spew such facile generalizations risks damaging the AP brand within a key AP user segment – UX professionals working at agencies (perhaps AP should hold separate conferences – one for the “real” UXers and one for the poseurs).

    38. Vincent

      For me, here in the trenches, this is pure entertainment and resonates strongly.

      While broad and general is the target of Peter’s arrows, congratulations on hitting bulls-eye! Having the experience of working internal, external, agency, consultancy … there is more truth here than I personally would ever want.

      Experience design and it’s practice is a craft that many are gaining a taste of but only few are willing to invest in the talent, skill and intensive commitment required to do the good work.

      The optimistic part is that there’s generations of future leaders that get it and will seek it.

      Loving this, Peter.

    39. Satan

      Hey hey hey, lets cool it with the whole having a soul and honesty is important thing.

      I’ve had a good run in the ad agency world. Don’t ruin it for me Peter because I’ll be seeing you soon. Remember that thing you did with that thing?

      -Satan

    40. I Kea

      What bothers me isn’t the nature of the blog post or how accurate it is… I’ve worked in almost 10 of your 3-4-letter-named interactive ad agencies so I’ve experienced a larger cross-section than your average dude… and it all rings true. I came away with two main impressions after reading this:

      1) That the idea that this is an “irresponsible” blog post doesn’t sit right with me.

      2) That the bedrock of this shit-stirring is a semantic one. UX designers at advertising and marketing agencies aren’t practicing what they say they are. They are practicing “purchase funnel experience design”. No matter how strongly they make the case for beautifying the marketplace, it’s still a marketplace.

    41. Chris G

      Seriously, your article is a load of hogwash. Furthest from the truth. You’ve been watching too much Glenn Beck.

    42. Dane Petersen

      “Live ever in a new day. Trust your emotion.

      A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do… if you would be a man, speak what you think today in words as hard as cannon balls, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it may contradict everything you said today.”

      – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    43. Brien Grant

      Before you start bashing “brand” why don’t you try to understand what a brand really is; for starters it’s not a style guide.

    44. Nate Davis

      As a mere ad tyro, an internet n00b of the Google and Firefox generation, why do I dare pick a bone with someone who has allegedly been writing about UX since the Altavista/Netscape days? Because in this user-generated age, influential pundits, like big brands, shouldn’t be able to spew generalities unchecked.

      My first quibble is with the small sample size of the data set that inspired this post. I don’t doubt that a few of your friends have had negative experiences at ad agencies, but to tar and feather a whole industry based on that is irresponsible blogging. Now granted, there are worthless ad agencies just like there are worthless companies in any business, but I have worked at and read about too many shops whose spirit runs counter to your accusations to let that one slide. What pains me about your seven major accusations is that they ignore the evidence of some of the best advertising and ad people. You take Bill Bernbach, for example, who said “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth,” and you think about some of the best advertising out there, and it is true. Nike’s “just do it.” The iPod silhouettes campaign. And so forth. They’re not treating people as consumers–they’re treating people as people. They’re saying something true.

      Secondly, I object to your nearly-unqualified portrayal of UX shops as altruistic do-gooders. Is Adaptive Path a non-profit and I missed it? Does the Barbarian Group donate all its profits to Amnesty International? I apologize for resorting to the blunt weapon of sarcasm online (the circus mirror medium for textual subtleties), but the statement that most UX shops “desire to make the world a better place” (when applied to a for-profit industry, just like advertising) borders on self-satire.

      What I do appreciate, in closing, is that you prompted me to think about my chosen profession–a business I have decidedly mixed feelings about–and what my goals might be for a hypothetical integrated shop in the future. Because ultimately, I believe, advertising and UX are converging toward the same goal, which you summarized as “delightful and desirable experiences.”

    45. Kim Cullen

      Just for the record I am a visual designer at Adaptive Path and disagree with the assumption that the work we do has more integrity then advertising agencies. My experience in one of the biggest agencies in SF taught me more then any other job about how to humanize my design by incorporating elements of humor, joy, fun, or provocation to the experience. This is the reason I champion the role of visual design in the UX process. As I have stated before, I think visual design is the emotional bridge between functionality and human experience.

      I also feel strongly that as we move into the field of service design and more multi-channel approaches we need to be able to speak branding and marketing. I was recently doing research for a project and discovered that people absolutely loved a specific service (that was not our client’s) because of the TV ads and company branding. Were these people manipulated? Maybe. But they seemed genuinely happy to me. And my coworker brought up the fact that we could design the most AWESOME experience ever for our client but if no one knows about it will it matter?

      It’s like that tree falling in the forest thing…If a UX designer creates a service but no one markets it does it exist?

    46. Kate Rutter

      The most interesting thing about this post is, of course, the comments.

      The parts of UX work that rock my world are the need to see things from a different perspective and the need to collaborate with others to deliver something helpful and interesting into the world.

      That doesn’t happen in a bubble, and it doesn’t happen when any single viewpoint is represented. It happens when people talk to each other and engage in discussion. Sometimes hairy, frank, earnest, fiery, open discussion.

      I’m commenting not the contents of the post, but the tone of this thread. Specifically the call by Henning for Peter to justify posting this on the blog:

      * What was the purpose of your statements?

      * Does this serve to articulate a philosophy of practice to the readers of this blog?

      * How do you see this advancing the cause of user experience?

      These are good questions, but if Peter had answered these questions in the initial post, I don’t this conversation would have happened, and then I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn what everyone-who-is-not-Peter think.

      * When a post has answers, it informs and maybe inspires or prompts action.

      * When a post poses questions, it opens space for contribution, exploration and discovery.

      * When a post inflames, points fingers, is unforgiving and judgmental, it catalyzes people to jump into the fray and voice condemnation, kudos, ire, agreements and gut-honest thoughts.

      I don’t advocate for being inflammatory for the sake of inflammatoriness, but I do know which kind of post *always* results in the most passionate, interesting and animated discussion.

      So, does Peter’s post (or Hennings, or mine, or any one of the other folks here) represent an official Adaptive Path perspective? No. (yeah, that was full disclosure, I work here.)

      Does (and should) the Adaptive Path blog provide a place for the independent thinkers and engaged people in the community to comment, discuss and debate? Yes.

      If it takes some shitstorms to happen, bring it on. I’m always smarter afterwards.

    47. Jeff

      Best comment thread ever. Thanks to Pete for jarring us a bit and serving as catalyst for an actual, bonafide social experience.

      Wherever you fall on the issues, you gotta admit this has been more interesting to follow today than your Facebook news feed.

      Having read Rick’s rebuttal, I’m walking outta this agency skyscraper more conflicted than ever. Think I’ll listen to some Sabbath. (With Ronnie, no Ozzy today).

      Excelsior!

    48. Geoff Kaile

      Funny how when times are hard, web development becomes dog eat dog world isn’t it?

      As a RIA developer for a London ad agency, we have very stringent internal processes regarding IA, design and development, and pride ourselves on not being up ourselves to keep an eye on the world and accept that we can never stop improving.

      Maybe that attitude, common in our field, is what is winning us clients over people who believe they hold a unique “desire to make the world a better place”

      “I will not mourn their passing” – During a recession, thanks for wishing an entire industry full of people, that is real people, not monsters, out of their jobs.

    49. Matthew Bertocchi

      I recently joined a major advertising agency as part of a growing user experience team, and having first hand experience I wholeheartedly disagree with almost every point in this rant.

      The only pernicious effect I see is an article like this painting an entirely inaccurate picture of what it’s like to be practising user experience within an agency.

    50. Josh Coe

      I work at Sterling Cooper Draper Price, and I disagree with this blog post. It would be more interesting if you bumped your sources up by 30 years and made them non-fiction.

    51. Hthaiwon

      It’s all about making and creating and if you find yourself in a souless hole- dig yourself out, make your path and find an agency, group, practice or coven that jives for you.

      Love the comments!

    52. Ian Betteridge

      I got as far with your rant as “Ad agencies, in particular, are soulless holes…” and thought “oh, another pointless rant from someone feeling a little threatened.”

      Peter, I’d like you to name some names. Which agencies have you worked in that have been “souless holes”? And if you haven’t worked in any like that, then you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

    53. Ryan Cobourn

      It’s really difficult to divine what Peter is trying to get out of this post. Does he really just want the agency industry as a whole do die? I work at a company that makes products for creatives, marketing departments, agencies and everyone else. We all struggle with the challenges of balancing the business goals with the user needs, that’s why we’re in this profession, for the challenge. Does that make us unethical? Does he want us to die too?

      It’s almost like he’s damning the concept of customer acquisition/retention. If so, what’s the proposed solution? What are we supposed to do with this post, Peter?

    54. Minoru Uchida

      Not sure what set you off, but I hope you’ll come to regret the tone (and much of the content) in this post.

      As many others have pointed out here, the broad stroke with which you painted the whole industry is pretty offensive, and it only shows how out of touch you are with the topic.

      More than anything, it makes me sad that as a leader in the UX field, you chose to alienate many people who looked up to you, who have paid money to hear you speak, who have the same passion and desire as you about creating good user experience, based on your very limited personal experience. You wished for a demise of a whole industry in which we make our living, and offered no perspective for how it could potentially improve to shed some of the bad stereotypes. Even if some of us had mixed feelings about working in advertising, your rant, bordering on personal attack, makes it difficult to agree with you. (If your tone was a tactic intentionally used to fire up some people to prove you wrong in the future, it just might work.)

      And you cite a TV show as evidence? Come on, dude.

    55. Phil R

      Hi

      Ex-AP intern here, now working at R/GA. I work 40-50 hours a week, have great benefits and tackle challenging and interesting problems with the support of some amazing mentors.

      I’m surprised to see a lot of empty rhetoric and blanket statements that make very little sense given the context of the modern interactive agency world.

      Design is not practiced the same way here as it is at AP, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less valid. We do great work that I am proud of. We care about the user and want them to have the best possible experience. We contribute to the larger conversation around interaction design by attending conferences, posting ideas, and trying to engage with the community as a whole.

      So what else can we do to be friends again?

    56. Ayca Akin

      I wish you could have just identified the problems you see with agencies and offer solutions rather than just spewing hate all over the place. That helps no one. It really just comes across like AP has lost a lot of work to agencies lately.

    57. Mauro Cavalletti

      Dear Peter,

      Just read your posting that is certainly working well – it’s building a whole conversation. Good job.

      I appreciate your ideas, but want to add that they don’t reflect very well our practices at R/GA, and don’t reflect many agencies I know well. Just as background information, we have Interaction Design as a practice in the agency for a little over 12 years. We have probably close to 100 Interaction Designers working in our offices. We are not strangers to Interaction Design at all. In fact, some good part of our leadership comes from the discipline. And we have Interaction Designers as leadership in our accounts. Being an Interaction Designer myself, I am in the position of leading the creative team for our San Francisco office. The same is true for our office in London – creative is headed by an Interaction Designer. No, it’s not the same everywhere, we have leaders from other disciplines in other offices as we believe in balancing points of view. R/GA has a legacy of over 30 years in design, so I think we can contribute somehow to the debate you have initiated.

      Still, you might say that we don’t fit in your criteria of evaluation for what should or should not be considered Interaction Design. It’s OK, we also had that kind of reaction coming sometimes from advertising agencies back in the days. But, you know, they never tried to classify designers as unethical or poisonous (though it sounds funny). Overall, at R/GA we don’t follow all rules all the times, it’s true. We like discovering, challenging and evolving our disciplines. I personally think this is particularly true for Interaction Design, as it is a relatively young discipline. It’s just the way we like it, and it’s working relatively well for us. And I don’t think we treat our colleagues, clients or customers the way you described.

      I have to say I have a lot of respect for your work at Adaptive Path, and have quietly been a couple of times at your office events. We are a block away from you in San Francisco. I would love to take you for lunch and discuss design philosophy, and then show you our offices. I can introduce you to our people, and maybe we call Chloe Gotlieb, who heads our discipline from NY, and have a longer chat.

      What you say, would you like to see the evil from inside? We might just confirm all your assumptions, but who knows, you might make some friends here. I would love to have you as our guest. I am all for building the community.

    58. Anhony Franco

      Courageous post Peter…

      This conversation needed to happen. And to all of you who have taken offense to this post, shame on you. Stop being defensive and open your eyes. Peter’s business (in fact, any company focused exclusively on UX) is not struggling, they are growing (and grew during the time agencies were doing massive layoffs).

      Peter took an extreme position in order to get a conversation started. There is truth in a lot of what he said.

      And to those of you who say you are practicing UX at a digital agency… If the primary end goal of a campaign you are working on is to drive traffic or increase impressions, then you are not practicing UX (in fact, if it is even called a campaign, it is not a user centered product)

    59. Pete

      Obviously too this article is extremely, and probably unfairly, broad in it’s damnation of the Ad/Marketing Agency. It is also obvious that not all Ad/Marketing Agencies are the same and some certainly do understand the importance of User Experience.

      I also can’t disagree with the UX professionals that work in the Ad/Marketing Agency environment who have come here to express their displeasure. But, and here’s the crux, the very fact that you are here reading this is a good indication that you aren’t the people being talked about. Hell, the fact you know what UX even is is pretty telling that you aren’t the target of the piece.

      However, I would wager that a far larger number of Ad/Marketing Agencies producing web content have no clue about UX or even IA. They are never coming here to read this as it’s so off their radar. There are tons of those agencies out there all making a pig’s ear out of client sites.

      I hate to say it but much of what was said by Peter is bang on the nail. From personal experience I can testify that I’ve worked as a web designer/developer in far too many places that see a website as a series of pictures or advertisements with little or, more often, zero thought given to the person hitting the site. If it looks nice and the client likes the colours then it’s job done. It has been, to me, an endless source of frustration as the sheer effort involved in trying to get these types to understand let alone then sell the concept in to the client is soul destroying in itself. So many firms get it so, so wrong.

      Of course, this doesn’t mean to say that attitude applies to every agency, or even those working within them, and to those UX pros working at agencies where UX is taken seriously and an effort is made to improve then I say “bravo” to you.

      Sadly it isn’t you guys that the rant is about. Go spread the word.

    60. Devon Keller

      When did User Experience become so snobbish? Since when did UX get to play God as to who was more deserving of an excellent user experience? Advertising and Marketing agencies NEED our help. Their big creative ideas end up in digital solutions that are being used by real people (even you Peter). Surely it makes sense to have these products made as usable as possible? Isn’t that the whole point? Otherwise you’re almost encouraging a shit experience for people. That seems counter-intuitive to what Adaptive Path would want.

      BTW Dan Linsky your response was excellent.

    61. JJ

      From the perspective of this UX practitioner at a Fortune 100 company, this post spot-on. Having worked with 4 agencies, we’re 3.75 for 4. Of course there are good people involved and great creative work being done, but the underlying business model is perverse in relationship to UX..

    62. Justin

      I think the truest statement I’ve seen in this whole conversation is Abby’s:

      “Do I ultimately think that your whole post is nothing more than an Adaptive Path advertisement with a defamation angle targeting the Ad industry? Heck yes.”

      Sometimes advertising is in fact ugly, and sadly, this posts does more to show that than any of Peters examples.

    63. André Galhado

      Can’t agree 100% (let’s say, 70%… Because I would love to see UX team launch a new yogurt or english school in the brazilian market, without a single ad, tv/radio spot, poster etc, dozens of “small big ideas” under a strong concept. This is not just important: this is still crucial.)

      But what a great post, by a true provocateur.

      (not to mention the great comments)

      Right now i’m working as “creative director”, managing to get my cattle off the desert.

      Tks for showing us the UX way, day after day.

      Hope to see you all at an AP event soon.

      Best

    64. Monica Nordhausen

      Before joining Adaptive Path, I worked at a few interactive marketing agencies, and in reading this felt a need to respond. The following is my gut response, coming from the environment that I have.

      In the past, I’ve been frustrated with my employers, wishing they’d been driven more by a need to look after their dedicated employees, and focused less on simply closing the next deal. But companies are made up of all sorts of people, and in the case of my previous employer: many, many compassionate, driven and seriously talented people. People who want to do good, people who are not driven by money, but by a genuine passion to deliver good work. Regardless of what type of company people work in, there is no reason to disregard their knowledge and ability. And because many, many companies are built up of people with knowledge and ability, some fantastic work comes from both ad agencies and interactive marketing agencies. It’s pretty much unavoidable, no matter how many obstacles are put in their way. I’ve seen so much spot on work, both user centric and business compatible. This is how profit is delivered to the client, who, in turn, feel passionate about their users.

      I don’t accept the notion that it’s only straight up UX focused companies that are successful at delivering user centric work. Most of us want to deliver work that feels right to us and right for the people who interact with it. Our egos feel warm and fuzzy by the number of people interacting with our work, the time they spend doing so, and how positive their response is. Not everyone is motivated by profit, because it won’t end up in our pocket anyway. These days, people go where they damn well please and most are smart enough to not be blinded by empty promises. It makes our work, everybody’s work, more challenging and more exciting than ever before. This is why we all do the best work we can, whatever type of company we may work for.

    65. David Clark

      lol, luv it. Made me smile as I read it and then my friend and I laughed together over it. I worked for a large web agency at one point and my experience was mostly good – that being said many of the points Peter makes ring true. I will never work at large agency again. This world needs more Happy Cogs, Clear Lefts & Adaptive Path’s and less Razor Fish’s, Critical Mass’s and Blast Radius’s.

    66. Sam Ladner

      Peter and everyone,

      I’m glad you wrote this. I’m glad people disagree with it. I’m glad this discussion is happening. I both agree and disagree.

      Some of y’all may be be familiar with my PhD research on interactive agencies: http://agencytime.wordpress.com

      Peter is mostly right about the utilization rate problem; billing by the hour “bends” time itself. Working under the billable hour rubric warps what is important.

      Peter, you’re also mostly right that this is NOT “a few bad apples” as some of the comments may suggest. The structure of agency life plays a big role in making some agencies “soulless holes.” Just like there are incentives for investment bank executives to rob us all blind, there are incentives for ad and marketing agencies to rob their clients and employees.

      That said, however, this need not be the case. Reflective, critical practice can swim upstream against the forces that tend to make agency work difficult, not suited to users or clients, and exploitative. You can have an agency that does not burn out its employees (though to be honest, I don’t believe a lot of the commenters here actually have wonderful ethical agencies).

      But here’s the higher order issue, Peter: design will not save us. No. You’ll be surprised to learn that “marketing” emerged as a discipline after the robber barons, after the Great Depression, after the initial alienation of factory life. Yes, “marketing” was at that time the “saviour” of the masses. Markets were monopolistic in the post-war era. Early discourse about “marketing” was that it would “open markets” and make better products for people. It would put people first, not profits. It was about understanding the real market.

      Does this sound familiar? Design or the design process or user-centred design or design thinking all claim to “put the person in the product.” I predict this will fail because the issue is not that we’re not thinking about the person, but that we are completely skating over profit-making activity as a key structure.

      So yes, I agree, it’s not a “few bad apples”; there is something systemically wrong in ad and marketing agencies. But just becoming a “design agency” will not solve it. Hard questions must be asked. Open the books. Co-own businesses. Reflect on profit making. Want less money. Those are the solutions, IMHO.

      oh and p.s., the “ivory tower” is not a pejorative word. It’s a compliment.

    67. Peter Thomson

      As business strategist I see the financial impact of Brand Design, Product Design and Interface Design. The business impact of the work comes down to whether the work is good. Not the discipline used. I’ve seen just as many souless engineers trading as product designers and as many amatuer anthropoligst trading as UX designers. If the plea is for more user centered thinking in all disciplines and for more integrity in client relationships then I’m all for it. If the plea is for ad agencies to stay out of your patch, then harden up and get on with demonstrating real value that they can’t deliver.

    68. Chris

      Wow. Just wow. This is the most sanctimonious, ivory tower piece of crap I’ve read in a long time. I worked for the last 13 years mostly in internal UX positions and recently joined an agency as their Director of UX. My challenge is to build our UX capabilities and ensure that the work we do aligns business goals with user needs. If this post were shown to business decision makers, they would conclude that UXers are a bunch of morons. Perhaps in your rarefied world, everything you do is done for the greater betterment of all humankind, but some of us still have to worry about moving the needle and showing a profit.

      It’s most disappointing because I respected you and Adaptive Path. And reading this makes me think that perhaps you’re the hacks with a dangerously black and white view of our world. I had talked to my boss a couple weeks ago about attending the MX conference in March. I will be finding a different conference to attend – one put on by a company/organization that doesn’t feel the need to sow an us v them mentality within our profession (and that profession would be UX, not advertising)

    69. Jorge Barahona

      Hi Peter,

      advertising urgently needed build user experience, because the basis of the new media is building conversations and communication are impossible without UX

    70. peterme

      Hey all. I just want to say that I’m really pleased that while this discussion has been active, passionate, and polarizing, it has not been inappropriate or flaming.

      I also want to make sure people know I’m listening, and plan on responding. I simply haven’t had time to keep up (69 comments! Innumerable tweets!), and want to make sure my response is thoughtful.

      Have a good weekend.

    71. Steve Portigal

      Persuasive outrageousness has been working well for Don Norman lately, too.

    72. Reid

      Great post – I love it when people shoot from the hip.

      A blatantly narrow minded definition of an ad agency. I agree with the importance of user experience, though your disdain for ad agencies gives the impression that you’re bitter. In the end, it seems like you’re talking about how your agency model is bigger and better than the one that beat you up when you were young.

    73. Arvind

      As if meaning and utility were two disconnected, separate things.

      Apparently, we’re not all as grown up as we could be.

    74. Greg Ness

      I hope you can get some help for your drinking problem!

    75. William Owen

      I liked this, it gets to the heart of the matter: ‘…one of the most absurd ad agency practices [is] “the pitch.” …The idea that you can credibly address a client’s concerns before you’ve actually started working with them is ludicrous…’. It’s a client practice too, of course; it assumes the problem is simply one of creating a good communications idea and here lies the crux of the matter.

    76. Tim Malbon

      I’ve always loved Adaptive Path, almost from the beginning. I’ve always wanted to be a bit like Adaptive Path. But… this blog is not simply provocative, it’s insulting, arrogant and a bit stupid. Whilst I recognise *some* of the problems/issues you talk about I think you go totally over the top in a way that can only damage you, the good name of AP, and the relationship between practitioners of all kinds. I’m far from being on the side of the advertising agencies – but at Made by Many we were given a roof by BBH London and, effectively, incubated as a business by them. We lived inside an ad agency for three years – some of them were tossers but most of them were smart people who were excited by ideas wherever they came from, into ‘good’, and respectful of what they could learn. Being a controversialist is fun and will get you lots of comments but it’s not going to move anything forward or make the world a better place, and it won’t make you very happy either. Many people in the ad industry I think agree with some of what you’re saying, but you don’t seem to understand what a brand is. Sorry Peter, but I really think you kind of demean the good name of AP with this kind of extreme fundamentlism.

    77. Ed Cotton

      These are confusing times.

      It’s harder then ever to define terms like “user”, “consumer”, “creative” and “agency”.

      In the chaos of this confusion it’s very easy to be convinced that the world is bi-polar; with the user advocates and deep experience creators at one end and the traditional “Mad Av” ad creative teams at the other.

      This polarized world is fast becoming a dated concept; the smartest agencies get that this isn’t a zero sum game with one winner, but instead, the goal is often for a hybrid best in breed approach.

      User understanding is vital and important, but it’s just the start of a conversation on top of which creative flair has to be added. The marriage of deep user understanding with leading edge creative talent is relevant now, but will be more so in the future. We aren’t going to wake up one morning and find the switch flipped over.

      There will be a gradual shift- television and television advertising hasn’t and isn’t going away- in-fact- various research studies confirm that both TV viewing (on all formats) and appreciation of television advertising are on the increase.

      Without advertising- who is going to discover your great user experiences? As any app developer will tell you, it’s hard to get “discovered”, even if you have created a great experience.

      Advertising in some form will be required to capture people’s imaginations and attention. What form it takes will change, but the audio-visual message has tremendous power- despite the digital revolution- no communication format in the digital world has ever come close and clients know it.

      Ad agencies as the pure entities you’ve defined- might die out, but this is unlikely as their skills will still be required, but perhaps to a lesser degree than we see today.

      However, you have to consider giant agency holding companies are already firmly playing in the digital experience field. At the top, they are smart enough to know where the world is heading and they are covering their bases. Quite simply, they have enough people who “get it”.

      In summary, the best ad agencies out there embrace or will soon embrace the “hybrid” model where multiple skill sets create a multitude of different, but relevant experiences for users- some of these will feel like advertising and others more like deep user experiences.

      Great user communication and connection is now and will be all doing about both, not substituting one for the other.

    78. Ronnie Battista

      Excellent thread. Like most who’ve read this far, I’m sure we can align with many comments in the spectrum of responses. I’ve done UX at a big 4 consultancy, as an internal UX team and now at a pure-play XD agency, and of course there’s the good and bad, and the pros and cons of each.

      My little contribution to this thread is that we all should step back and smile at what this active discussion reveals about the level of impact our profession is having on business. The ears of senior leadership, tin as many have been for years, are perking up. More and more C-level folks are really listening and investing in UX, with younger like-minded leaders joining the ranks every year. Do you smell the opportunity this gives us all? Wherever you do the voodoo you do, be it agency, UX consultancies or anything in between, the options to find places to do what you love are only getting more plentiful; UX has arrived. And that means competition – which can only help raise the bar and clean the crap out of all the stables.

      My point is, little cottage industries don’t have these debates; UX is at a point where there is now much to compare to. And let’s recognize it’s certainly not a game of ‘sides’ either. I’m sure even some of the more diametrically opposed in these threads would link arms and agree that ad agencies and UX consultancies by principle alone should be far more capable at UX than the massive outsourcing shops. Right? Maybe? Well, let’s ask Wipro at the next Forrester webinar on Customer Experience they host (did you miss the first one?).

      Take it easy and make it easy,

      Ronnie

      I wrote a blog about 2010 being the ‘Year of the Experience’(which I thought catchy but was trumped easily by Forrester’s calling this the ‘Era of Experience’). Here’s the link if you’re interested: http://www.misicompany.com/xdblog/index.php/must-see-xd/ But wait, is this advertising? I’ll leave that up to you, but I assure you I’ve got soul baby. ;)

    79. Nick in NZ

      I disagree with the sentiment behind this post.

      Although it has seeded conversation, it comes across with the sort of egocentric attitude that it pokes a stick at.

      I consult to advertising agencies who have discovered the value of a customer centric approach.

      In my experience these agencies are either strong advocates of ‘UX’ or have adopted processes in response from clients who demand that ‘UX’ be part of their approach.

      This is in New Zealand, so perhaps we do things differently down here.

    80. Catarino

      Dear Peter,

      I could go on and on about why you’ve picked the wrong fight and why you’re so wrong about it, but some brilliant comments have already pointed what is wrong with you and most of UX silo thinking today.

      So, to sum up what happened here, watch this:

      http://bit.ly/aQFZG3

      The real question now is: Have u learned something today?

      Do you want to get up or will just feel hurt for eternity?

    81. Jon B

      I agree with everything in this post except for the labels. To claim that any decent agency is a one trick pony, with a single perspective or operating structure (hammer) that it uses to solve a multitude of business or user challenges (nails) is to misrepresent the agency world.

      Sure, there are many agencies that get it very wrong. But I have seen PLENTY of work from design firms that ignores the human reality of the equity exchange across multiple channels.

      At the same time, there are many agencies exploring and successfully deploying new models for engagement and radically new solutions. Sure, the billing infrastructure has it’s issues, but good design oriented thinking can and does come from many places.

      The label we put on our businesses is less important that the product we produce. And while I appreciate a good smackdown, I think you may have gone a bit further to the left to get us all a bit closer to the center.

    82. Adrian McCluskey

      Even though most disagree with the points made in this article, I agree with most everything. Having worked in a large ad agency for 10 years, the attitudes of management are pretty damn close to those listed here

    83. Antoine Valot

      An interesting thing in the ad industry is the recursivity: Ad people are constantly selling the goodness of their industry to themselves, and since they’re good at influencing, and very open to being influenced, many of them actually buy it!

      My experience has been that you have to sell too much of your soul, compromise too much of the principles that make you a friend to users, when you try to do UX in advertising. You might think you can change them from the inside, but who’s changing who?

    84. Bob Ryskamp

      I dunno Peter, I think we in UX have as much to learn from the marketing folks as they have from us, especially around articulating and focusing our ideas on real emotions and needs.

      I particularly like the idea of a blended practice, suggested here by Russell Davies and inspired, quite deliciously, by you yourself:

      http://russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/2008/04/pre-experience.html

    85. Michael Lemme

      How thoughtfully an organization practices user-experience/interaction design has little to do with whether or not it might also be called an ad agency, design firm, “user-experience design and consulting firm,” brand consultancy or whatever else. The same organizations will be similarly distributed with respect to how effective they are creating visual identity systems, information design, brand strategy, communications planning, writing, etc – not to mention their employees’ personal and professional satisfaction (which is certainly tied closely to ethics).

      What’s most interesting to me in this discussion is the extent to which the distinctions this post relies on have broken down. What we’re left with is a broad range of companies that increasingly need to work together to produce the most meaningful stuff – particularly stuff that spans media, purpose or culture.

      I’ve been looking forward to a collaboration with Adaptive Path when the right opportunity comes along. We’d all do the best we can, I’m sure.

      PS: A title proposal for your next post: “The pernicious effects of trying.”

      Hi-oh!

    86. MB

      Peter, variants of your essential cri de coeur have been around for 15 years. The UX designers always want to know: “Why do the ad agencies get to drive the bus and not me?” (OK, it wasn’t called UX back then, but you get my drift)

      I’ll leave aside your observations about the culture of ad agencies — while perhaps accurate, you could also be describing many tech startups or UX firms. There are bad apples in every barrel, etc.

      So what is the essential difference between ad agencies and UX firms? Ad agencies are much more willing to put their money where their mouth is. You consider it a negative that ad agencies are willing to put thousands of dollars into a creative pitch. Why? To many outsiders, the traditional UX-firm approach — first, pay me a bunch of money so my team can “understand” your problem — seems like narcissistic hokum.

      Also, ad agencies live or die by whether their client’s product sells. Whereas many UX firms treat marketing & sales as a carcinogen.

      I don’t mean to give ad agencies more credit than they deserve. Getting paid based on media commissions doesn’t create the right incentives, and that distorts ad-agency work. But the constipated fee-for-service model that many UX and design firms use isn’t really much better.

      Show me a firm that can measure the effects of UX on sales, and I’ll show you the most successful UX consultancy in the world.

    87. RussellUresti

      So, to sum it up in what, essentially, could have been a Twitter post: “I’m awesome and everyone else sucks.”

      Next time, please save us from your lengthy, biased, and uneducated opinion. Thanks in advance.

    88. Shawn Kardell

      You cut me deep, Peter.

      As a multiple-AP conference attendee and as a person who’s built a responsible, creative UX discipline at a digital marketing agency (I work for space150 and my comments are my own), I am disappointed and hurt by the position you and AP have taken against my industry. I haven’t always agreed with the opinions of everyone at AP, but your volition has handily destroyed a brand reputation that I have come to trust over quite a few years. I appreciate your colleagues chiming in as part of the discussion (damage control), but Adaptive Path’s good reputation is gone.

      At space150 we spend months collaborating with our clients, using UX and research methods that find real issues and we vigorously defend the user/visitor/customer/consumer.

      We have a saying around here that sounds like one in your post: “Good ideas come from anywhere.” We all practice user-centered thinking and design. And we’re good at it.

      On agencies like mine, you asserted, “I will not mourn their passing.” I assume that means you won’t be interested in mentoring us toward successful endurance either. I’ll vote with my dollars, so please don’t hurry back to Minneapolis or NYC for our sake. I won’t be at UX Weeks and Intensives, and I won’t be spending my budget to send anyone else, either.

      I’m sorry we had to break up, but I need to move on.

    89. Kerry Bodine

      Hi, I’m an analyst on the customer experience team at Forrester Research. (And I previously worked at an ad agency.)

      On the surface, this argument pits agency against agency. But I think the issue goes much deeper: the growing intersection – and tension – between customer experience and marketing.

      You can read my full response on Forrester’s customer experience blog:

      http://blogs.forrester.com/kerry_bodine/10-11-22-customer_experience_and_marketing_cant_we_all_just_get_along

    90. Mick Winters

      You know you’ve hit the nerve when readers are weighing in with this degree of volume and ferocity. So, bravo! for bringing the topic to light.

      I’ve worked in many shops over the course of my career; corporate advertising agencies, independent design studios, consultancies, in-house Fortune 250, freelance, non-profit, etc… and what holds true regardless of agency and client is that the individual people involved (from both sides) make the difference regarding the tone and execution of the design solution. Great agencies can get awful clients. Perfect clients can get burned by lousy agencies.

      Different agencies and clients respect the UX field (and all of many disciplines found under its big tent) to the degree of their company culture allows and rewards. If employees and clients don’t like what they’re getting from an agency, they leave.

      Does anyone within the UX field want to see it fall as agency marketing trend du jour (as, say, social media was not so long ago)? Of course not. But, do you not see that this current “landgrab” as a direct result of your own 15 steadfast years of advocacy of the discipline?

      Your post reeks of the hipster that was into “that band” back when no body knew that they were cool except for you. Now that UX is popular, is your credibility and desire to control/validate the conversation threatened? Or does the quality of your work shine through regardless of the degree of competition be they true superstars or poseurs?

    91. james

      Very direct, the other polar extreme being that if clients are not cattle they can be bulls and stampede over you.

      Regarding the burnout or spreading yourself too thin. I think it stems from sales people not understanding thier limits, once they close a sale and get out the door, they are onto the next one and in many cases, post production is still trying to catch up, or clean up the previous projects before the next ones begin.

      The tighter the deadlines, the more corners have to be cut. You have to allow catch up time otherwise it is a snowball effect.

      Begging and pleading with your production crew is not the correct way to get something done. When they resist, they are doing it for a damn good reason. To avoid catastrophe.

    92. Matthew Talbot

      Umair Haque just tweeted a link to this post with “the real problem? marketing as we know it tends to be mostly socially useless.” referencing an old article http://bit.ly/cb2jUY about the use of businesses to society. As always, a good perspective. Their is synergy in what you’re both calling for (though his agenda is slightly more ambitious!). Good to hear your response Peter, cheers..

    93. Ingjerd Jevnaker

      Hear hear!

      Glad you brought up the bad practice of pitching. It definitely undermines the understanding-phase of the project.

    94. Michael Beavers

      While this thread could easily have devolved into a flame war, I’m so happy the conversation is taking place at all.

      Advertising needs to become less about manipulation and more about customers halfway (at least halfway…maybe more.) Some of the very best UX practitioners I’ve ever met came up through the agency world–mostly from shops known as “digital” but they are not always supported even at Web focused agencies.

      The good news is that agencies are taking notice that they need to think more like product creators: http://j.mp/b1YW5q.

    95. Blair Enns

      Provocative piece with enough seeds of truth to balance out some of the sweeping generalizations and brow-furrowing perspectives. :-) I’m impressed with the largely thoughtful and respectful comments on all sides. Not everybody can get Satan to comment on their blog. (#51)

    96. Andrea Moed

      OK, so as a UXer who works to improve the user experiences advertisers and agencies have with my company (Yahoo!), I feel a bit caught in the middle here. Peter’s seven reasons to distrust advertising and marketing agencies all resonate with me, both at the broad level of cultural criticism, and based on some specific experiences I have had with (and within) ad agencies over my career. He is right to point out the structural reasons (such as short timeframes, competitive processes, billing models and a raft of cultural values and client expectations formed over the history of mass media) that ad agencies are difficult places to do empathetic UX work, no matter how talented and principled the individuals working there are. Nonetheless, the Forrester blog post cited above has it right. Neither customer experience nor marketing are going away. That’s because there will always be some businesses that prosper by attracting “eyeballs” for a couple of days at a time, and others that thrive by cultivating I-thou relationships with people over repeated interactions. Those flashier businesses may not speak to your life’s mission, but I would bet they’ve shown you a good time at some point. “Analytics” are a reductive and unfair measure of creative work, but I think they actually help when evaluating the claims of ad agencies and design agencies alike. Both work best when the agency and the client are forthright about the “success metrics” for the project. Of course, this assumes some self-knowledge on the part of the client organization, the attainment of which is a challenge beyond the scope of UX.

    97. Tim Holden

      Brilliant post and comments.

      Just thought I’d just lob in a link to Rory Sutherland’s excellent TED talk, Life lessons from an ad man, for anyone who might have missed it (including Peter).

    98. Reinout de Kraker

      If all people here are disagreeing so strongly and react personally insulted, why is 90% of advertisement I see around me, build out of dumb statements and half-truths to persuade me to buy something I don’t want. And why is hardly any of the companies represented in those commercials really showing some interest in my opinion. The most open they will get is starting a Facebook fanpage they never read.

      I’m one of those people who agrees with Peter, with that notion that I encourage the people who feel insulted to show he’s wrong. And Peter to show the difference as well.

    99. Ryan McAdam

      Great to see the lively discussion. Regardless of your position on this topic it’s encouraging that most folks are participating in a constructive manner.

      Rather than a rant against ad agencies, my interpretation of this post is that it’s a call for ad agencies, and creative businesses of all kinds, to authentically position themselves externally (to clients) and internally (to employees). Emphasize this point even more in this time of Transparency. Someone is eventually going to call you on your BS. Ergo, this post.

      It’s not surprising to see something of a turf war between folks that have been toiling in the domain of UX since web 1.0 versus the chameleon-like ‘integrated marketing agencies’ that have a talent for jumping on the next anticipated revenue stream. The economy still stinks, businesses get scared, and hey, why not throw a little UX on the services list for good measure, amiright? Hire some pixel pushers. Bill the client.

      Here’s the rub, UX has been quietly emerging as a bona fide field for a relatively brief time compared to marketing and advertising disciplines. If I had years invested in the empirical work of UX (which I actually have, come to thing of it), I’d be more than a little skeptical of those “other” disciplines dragging their propagandistic baggage into my domain. So an inevitable response is going to manifest from the UX crowd. And that response is going to say “they did things this way; we do things this way; here’s why you should work with us”.

      Attempting to illustrate this difference becomes absolutely critical when engaging clients. As others have noted upthread, part of our task is to inform clients about the finer points of UX. That signal can get distorted very quickly in the noise of ad agencies claiming a questionable expertise.

      The era of the “jack of all trades” agency is drawing to a close. What will follow is model dominated by crowd sourcing (at the lower end) and specialized creative businesses (at the upper end). Some legacy agencies will lose out as a result of this shift. But perhaps the transition can provide those agencies the opportunity to reexamine their values.

      I’m assuming, that as a business dedicated to diffusing real knowledge about UX, Adaptive Path (or perhaps more specifically Peter with this post) has an obligation to at least initiate the conversation. And maybe the tenor of his argument overshadowed the content. But it’s a real-time demonstration of what a thought leader in an industry should initiate. And I applaud Adaptive Path for not yanking the post. Can you think of an ad agency that would allow this kind of open discussion to happen on their site?

      Yeah, I thought so.

      My takeaway: if you’re not the real deal, don’t spread those problems into UX by pretending to be something you’re not.

    100. bp

      I’ve seen many colleagues go back to emphasizing their experience in Human Factors, Cognitive Psychology or just plain ‘ol “usability” … anything to distinguish themselves from the flood of people using the “User Experience” moniker that has been commandeered by marketing companies/ad agencies.

    101. Martin

      Bill Hicks would have loved this debate. One of the less deceived, Mr Hicks.

      Much of what Peter rang true to me – the unwillingness to spend time exploring requirements, while lavishing it on pitches delivered by smooth tongued charmers with bleached white smiles and expensive suits. Ad agencies (likely because their employees have bought into how glamourous and ‘fast paced’ it is) ‘get’ the web far less than they get print design or film. Glossy they get. Shiny they get. Even audience, they understand. But selling to is different from building for. Ad/PR/marketing agencies can usually throw together a pretty shop window type site, but that’s as far as it goes. Something that requires more than a few pages? [Pause for thought]‘Better hire an IA. Give him half a day with the client and we’ll be golden.’

      It comes down to values. The values of the industry and most likely the values of the individual. Hell, the values of the client, too. If a client sees the web as just another channel for getting their message across. They want glamour, they want to make the brandy sexy. Ad companies can help a client advertise their products/services online – anything else and their out of their element. So, what normally happens? They recommend a web agency better placed to deliver something that works? Or do they say ‘No problem. We’ll take care of you.’

    102. Alan Page

      This is such a sad, sad post. If the muddled thinking and childishly arrogant posturing weren’t bad enough, the sheer misunderstanding of what genuinely creative advertising is about beggars belief.

      Anyone who actually thinks that UX is as important as this person does needs to get another life, because he clearly doesn’t understand humans.

      However brilliantly executed, UX does not move people, does not make them laugh out loud, does not make them aspire or care about human life, does not have a spirit or soul.

      Saying UX is so special, so important and so difficult is a bit like saying the quantity surveyor or structural engineer is the most important element in a great building. It’s crap.

    103. peterme

      “However brilliantly executed, UX does not move people, does not make them laugh out loud, does not make them aspire or care about human life, does not have a spirit or soul.”

      Spoken like a true agency man with a distorted view of just what UX is. Are laughter, aspirations, and spirit and soul are the sole purview of advertising agencies? As my colleague Jesse said:

      “Experience design is the design of anything, independent of medium, or across media, with human experience as an explicit outcome, and human engagement as an explicit goal.”

      User experience professionals know it’s just as necessary to engage emotion as it is function and reason.

    104. Bonny

      It’s painful to read but so true, a great article Peter.

    105. Mariano

      Hi Peter, I worked as account director at Ogilvy Interactive recently, and resigned for exactly the same reasons that you describe here.

      I’m very interested on doing a spanish translation for this post, so if you are ok with that let me know.

      Cheers,

      MAG

    106. Kelli Robertson

      I like the word “pernicious” and am thoroughly enjoying the conversation that’s ensued.

      But that is about it.

      There is no doubt a community of people who believe in your post. I am having a great time working with the community of people who don’t. People that are committed to figuring out a new way for us all to work together: user experience people, communications people, digital people, marketing people, design people, strategy people, technology people.

      You may be surprised to learn about the collaborative process we embark on with our clients.

      You may be surprised to hear the 1-page brief died years ago.

      You may be surprised by the ways we try to understand our users. And more importantly, that user insights and realities form the foundation of our final solutions.

      You might be interested in knowing that more often than not, our end deliverables involve operational recommendations. Written job descriptions for our client’s open positions. Decision trees and processes to ensure they can maintain and grow what we produce.

      Maybe you’ll be pleased to hear several creative directors have user experience backgrounds.

      Perfect? Hell no. But we are all committed to learning from what didn’t work last time to make it better for next time. Can it wear you out? Obviously, as evidenced by your friends/colleagues/interviewees.

    107. Gabriel

      Bravo Peter. I salute your intellectual honesty.

      Advertising and marketing companies’ goals are undisputably unethical in nature and in dare contrast to those of users.

      UX addresses the needs of users and these companies don’t have users, they only have clients, and consumers of those clients. They may use some of the same cognitive psychology but to the advantage of their clients, not users.

      It’s sad that the reputation of our profession is getting damaged by people using similar principles for opposite reasons.

      A&M Agencies are also responsible for the progressive confusion between UX, Interaction Design, Web Design, and even Graphic Design etc, but that would be for another discussion.

      Another problem for the reputation of the UX profession is the raging amateurism that happens after a discipline goes through a sudden explosion of popularity. An invasion of unprepared people is followed by a general lowering of standards, misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the discipline. And this is happening right now.

      The misuse on one side and the incompetence on the other are threatening the perception of our profession.

      Let’s have this discussion, before we end up with a bad name.

    108. Evil_Creative

      People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I apologize for not being familiar with Adaptive Path. After reading your post, and learning that art directors and copywriters don’t know enough to be the creative leads developing Web sites, I was curious to see what sites you had developed so I could balance your comments with actual case study examples. However, the Adaptive Path site doesn’t seem to showcase any sites it’s had a hand in developing. More to the point, the site feels very generic. As a Creative Director, I would expect this work to come from a very junior team. Now, I know you’re audience isn’t the general public. But, if your site is any example of how the Internet would look, feel and sound if your model of UX taking the lead were propagated, I sincerely hope this idea doesn’t gain any traction.

    109. Jeff

      Cast as Digital Creative at the Big Agency. Check out my post: Please Don’t Eat the Chameleons http://bit.ly/hUGnqk #anchorpoints

      Not so much a response to this, but some real-world storytelling around what it feels like for me, in role, at an agency.

    110. Michel Keidel

      As a thirty year advertising agency vet, I find your post interesting, sort of accurate, unreasonably demeaning but not the career that I have lived. I tell stories for my clients that may or may not persuade someone to consider to buy my clients product. It’s not more difficult than that. I use all media as a canvas for that storytelling. My clients stick with me because their products gets sold. to think that you can effect the “experience” of an brand with its audience is naive. You don’t have that kind of power, no one does. It does create more billable hours. I don’t have problem with that. Apparently you have never experienced the thrill of doing a job well and getting a happy client rccomendation. I feel sorry for you Pete.

    111. frank

      Bravo. Told it like it is. To all the detractors, name something, anything, an agency has put forth that’s really changed someone’s life or permanently changed the paradigm? Subservient chicken? Really? Closest I can think of are Nike’s partnerships with agencies with Nike+ and NikeID, which in the end is still about selling shoes, but at least show that an agency can produce something other than pure shiny. Simply put agencies rarely create anything the does something useful for people.

      Personal anecdote, I once interviewed for a mid-to-high level UX role at an agency (think a very sharp aquatic creature, in the twilight of it’s years). They didn’t have much interest in my portfolio, seemed to see if I had a pulse, and offered me a job after 45 min of chatting. That was enough to tell me what they valued in me. That was the closest I came to that world. Still gives me shivers.

    112. Pat P

      Holier than thou or what?

      The original post and your reply seem to say what has been evident for time immemorial. It is a characteristic of any newish ‘discipline’ that has to carve out a piece of the action (monetary or altruistic) from the incumbent, in this case ad agencies. It was the same for design agencies, then branding consultants, brand experience consultants, web agencies, ad nauseum..

      So UX is much needed, is a genuine professional skill and essential part of the future of the world. So were all of the other initiatives and developments that enhanced more people to understand more about something to help them make decisions in their lives.

      Who cares if this influences people? People are inherently intelligent and know what is going on, it’s a deal they strike with the communicator, even going as far as paying for what is on offer.

      Each time an new hopeful usurper appears with the answer to consumer happiness and world peace eventually the uspurper comes to resent the relationships and trust that the ad agencies have built up with their clients and, through their understanding of products, services and brands, the consumers. Of course ad agencies have, in some peoples’ measurement, abused their clients and their staff (as have all service companies at some time) but it is naive to think that clients don’t know of this exchange.

      UX has its place but is part of the solution and not better or worse than any other entity.

      Ad agencies have maintained their position through hard work and smart thinking in the long term – yes, that’s strategic thinking – but they are not alone in this. The management consultancies have achieved this at a higher client level and shown ad agencies a thing or two. Ad agencies have responded by becoming more strategic and adding consulting services.

      What will UX practicioners do to develop their businesses? I would not contract / invest in / employ any who took such a diminished view of business and the roles of all companies that make up the marketplace.

      But hey, it’s christmas soon and if you can’t be holier than thou now then when can you be?

    113. Mariano

      I’ve published a spanish translation in my blog, because I think this debate must be fueled around the world.

      You can check it: Los efectos perniciosos de las agencias de publicidad y marketing tratando de ofrecer diseño de experiencia de usuario http://ow.ly/3vtQz

      Cheers!

      @marianogoren

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