Solving problems with naïvety

Last week I was at the wonderful Future Insights Live conference in Las Vegas. Annoyingly as I was speaking twice (that bit wasn’t annoying, it was fun!) I missed a load of talks, but had some fantastic discussions around some particularly interesting topics.

The topic of naïvety in user experience first came up in Aral Balkan’s brilliant opening keynote, but using it as an approach it was an ongoing theme through the week, summed up by Josh Clark:

Tweet Aral spoke about staying naïve in order to identify with a user who comes to your product afresh. It’s hard for somebody working on user experience to un-learn everything they know, but in order to create an experience that will be useful, and preferably enjoyable, for the user requires fresh eyes.

Thinking around this, I was considering another ongoing discussion that’s really been around for ages. Web vs. native, apps vs. sites. The evolution of the discussion in itself is definitely a blog post for sometime soon, but it was frequently the approaches of those involved in the conversation that made me consider the value of naïvety.

Now I’m not claiming to be objective in the argument of web vs. native, I work with the web, and therein lies my natural bias. It’s very difficult as a creator to not favour the tool that you work with the most. Both web developers and native app developers are frequently guilty of considering each new project as a nail because they’ve got a web or native hammer that’s particularly comfortable to use.

As problem solvers, we need step back from our tools of choice, often also being what will make us money, and try to objectively decide what will solve the problem most effectively and efficiently. We need a naïvety that makes us untainted by our previous experiences.

Ultimately we need to learn the separation between what are really standards and conventions that can assist the user in their learning process, and understanding our own experience that is clouding our judgment and making us expect the user to think in the same way that we do.

Being open-minded is difficult, we’re constantly faced with our own experiences on which we can base grudges, evangelism and every possible opinion in between. But this discussion on web vs. native has made me think that, whilst experience can work in our favour, we must be careful that it doesn’t work against us. Next time we’re arguing for or against a platform/approach/ideology, we need to consider whether we’re using our experience to judge or if it’s just bias.


  1. It’s a great point. I had my eyes opened to a lot of great practices at Future Insights Live, and spent a lot of time thinking “that sounds awesome for project x”. On the other hand, also spent a lot of time thinking “hell, that’s another new thing I’ve got to learn”. I think therein lies some of the problem –; it’s a combination of comfort with the tools we already use, and an assessment of the learning time needed to learn a new tool. Obviously in the long run having a wider skillset and more choices will benefit me, and my work. It’s sometimes difficult to take that long view on a day to day basis when there’s pressure to simply get things done, and less sympathy with the desire to take time to explore different options. Incidentally, really sorry I didn’t get to your talks at the event. I kept seeing tweets about how awesome your presentations were when I was sitting in different ones!
    • Yet in the same way, we don’t want to become workers with generalist skills who don’t have time to know enough about anything in depth. It’s part of that T-shaped skills idea, and really knowing enough (and being honest enough!) to tell a client/boss that you’re not the right person, or don’t have the right tool, for the job. (And no worries, the other talks looked great. There’ll always be the videos!)
    • Great post! Can’t agree more with the above point. Each project should be treated with an open-mind. At the end of the project, the designer / developer / consultant isn’t the end user in most cases and therefore the user should be put first. Whether a project should be developed as an app, site or hybrid solution should be a decision taken on a project by project basis.
    • My girlfriend says I’m dense. But FILive taught me that I’m just a good designer. The world is honestly pretty confusing once you start expecting good UX and design, and Aral’s talk made me feel OK about being genuinely confused by a lot of it.
      • David, That’s the best feedback I could hope to read on my talk; so happy to hear it :)

Categorised under: Design, Events, Usability. Tagged with: conference, future insights live, naivety, native vs web, platforms, user experience, web.