UX and B Corps are like peas and carrots. B Corps got their chocolate in my UX peanut butter. The Ingage business model is the macaroni to my UX cheese. (I could go on. I’m old and have lots of pop references stashed in my white-haired noggin..!)
In the fall of 2019, it was my good fortune to be hired by a certified B Corporation. I must admit, somewhat sheepishly, that I had been unaware of that particular business structure up until then. In the time since, I have come to admire it greatly. March is B Corp month, and so I’ve been thinking even more than usual about how lucky I am — a sentiment strengthened, no doubt, by the grim circumstances we’ve all had to bear in the past year. I’ve come to see that the warm, fuzzy feeling I have inside when I think of my career is two-fold: not only do I get to work for a B Corp but I’m a UX Designer, to boot. And that is an especially harmonious, especially gratifying combination.
Here’s my thinking on why the marriage of UX and B Corps is such a great match.
At its core, User Experience Design seeks to advocate for the end users of a given product, service, or workflow. That may seem like a mild case of stating the obvious, but it’s easy to forget how much that idea shook up the previous status quo of design. Because I was a print designer long before I became a web designer, and had been a web designer for a few years before being introduced to the principles of User Experience Design, I got to live through those growing pains first hand.
Designers used to be the experts who answered for all things aesthetic. Companies relied on their experience and “eye” for color, layout, font choice, etc. When the internet steamrolled over everyone and web design began to become the new normal, designers had to face an uncomfortable truth: sometimes they got it wrong. A website may have an exquisite palette of colors, it may have the most elegant of type treatments, its buttons might glow like lost gems of priceless treasure…but if the user can’t do what she needs to get done, she’ll leave and look for an alternative solution. Because web pages rapidly went from things we primarily looked at and became places where we got things done. More and more things. (Until, ultimately, all the things..!)
Enter usability testing: we designers discovered that we could put folks in front of our designs and simply ask them to test our ideas. Try to buy this item; enter this data; find this information. They’d give it their best shot, and even let us watch and take notes. While they could, and often did, confirm the broadest of our expectations, they often highlighted snags, pain points, or even outright blunders that we designers had completely missed. We simply couldn’t anticipate everything. Humans are complicated, messy creatures, and our objectives are subject to an ever-changing sea of influences (our mood, our hunger level, our self-esteem, the ambient light and noise in the room…the list goes on and on.) When mobile devices became a thing at the end of the first decade of the 2000s, we began conducting business anytime and anywhere we had access to our phone and a good internet connection. The focus of concern for UX expanded like one of those colorful little pills that turn into a sponge dinosaur when you drop it into the bath. (Have you ever shopped/checked your email/read an article during a long soak? That’s just one narrow example of the sort of context I’m talking about. How do we go about anticipating all those scenarios?)
To become a UX designer is to admit that you don’t have all the answers. It is to say, if I really want to do right by my users, I need to get to know them as best I can. I need to walk a mile in their shoes, see things as they see them, follow workflows as they would follow them. And when I identify how something can be improved in their favor, I need to commit myself to making that change within my project — I must take seriously my responsibility to advocate for those who are directly impacted by my design, even though they aren’t present at the project table.
Similarly, B Corps recognize a different flavor of the same truth. For-profit companies have a lot of clout in our society, and they are capable of providing good outcomes for many folks within the system. But a B Corp expands its area of focus to include not just its shareholders but its community, as well. It makes a formal pledge to devote a percentage of its profits to furthering worthwhile local causes that might just need a boost to get up to speed in the market. B Corps acknowledge that the profiteers might not always get it right. By nurturing a willingness to actively seek out what is important to their employees and to their fellow community members, they create a way to provide direct support to those efforts that could otherwise fall through the cracks.
What I’m talking about here, if you haven’t picked up what I’m laying down already, is generosity. There is a generosity of spirit in the person who says, I have the best of intentions but I am also human and fallible. If I find, due to my own ignorance or over-confidence, that my actions can be altered in a way that improves the outcome of what I’ve set out to do, then I’ll alter them. I’ll sacrifice my ego in service of the greater good, because my ultimate intention is to make things better.
Human history is replete with examples of well-intentioned folks “bestowing” gifts of terrible destruction and mayhem simply because they refused or were unable to consider the perspective of those on the receiving end. As a UX Designer, I like that I get to test out my design ideas with real folks who are willing to kick the tires and discover weaknesses or flaws. As an employee, I love that my company has dedicated a percentage of their profits to helping support local charitable and small-business efforts. I’m gratified that I am in a position to help foster that kind of change in the world.
If you’d like to learn more about B Corps, check out the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence; or search your local area for B Corps that you can support.
To learn more about UX Design, check out this great introduction over on Careerfoundry.com.
Finally, this Simon Sinek video helped me realize what is meant when people talk about having a good fit with their company’s culture—it helped me see how lucky and grateful I am to work for a company with a just cause. After the year we’ve all been through, just having a job is reason enough for gratitude, but I feel especially fortunate to be able to work with a certified B Corporation.