Gonzo CX

Work that researches well is predicted on what has gone before. Anything different, or out of the ordinary, will test badly, for the very reason that it is different – Bill Bembach

The majority of my work is as it should be… Neat, proper, rule-abiding and by the New Rider book. Packed full of user-centred design and interaction principals. The user at the heart of the story just happens to be me. Occasionally I need to indulge myself and that’s when my work gets all a bit ‘Gonzo’.

Maybe I’m wrong, but is it time for us to embrace ‘Gonzo UX’ as a reality of our industry and recognise it for right or wrong as a reality, because as a tool for the current generation of UXers’ who go to work everyday & follow the ‘rules’ but don’t always necessarily believe those rules it’s part of our lives and so many of us with a slight right-brain skew do it. I’m Gonzo and proud.

We pay lip-service to the methods of UX for the sake of our clients and then just do our own thing alot of the time. Exaggerating things to make them cooler & more progressive. We do our UX with claims of objectivity, but really how objective is it once we’ve put our own spin on the results, ignored the average bits of the insight and just pushed things forward rather than to the side – which to be honest is what the passionate few amongst us really want. If you’re not being Gonzo for some briefs then you’re not innovating, you’re optimising.

I almost always end up including a little piece of myself in the story, concocting a solution with me as the protagonist thinking “I’ll call the persona Gerald, they’ll never notice that crafty 30 something advertising exec from London is really me”… Come on, admit it, how many have you have done it?! More than you’d think. So much of what we do is a subjective, artistic endeavour based on our own objectively collected insights as real life consumers. We’re just scared to admit it because we think it somehow cheapens the solutions and the work is less robust because there’s a large wedge of ourselves in it rather than a real-life bloke called Gerald who probably still owns a monotone Nokia from 2003 anyway… And I’m certainly not user-centring a solution around THAT bloke, he sucks! When that proposal goes live deep-down its somewhere comfortably between subjective and objective and as long as it’s still good, where’s the harm in being a bit Gonzo with the approach. It’s still packed full of insight driven work, the insight just happens to be your own. It’s good. It has a place and you shouldn’t be ashamed (as long as you’re racking up success and you can attribute it back to some fuzzy bit of research or insight someone pompous researcher gave you at work).

Lets look at bit more at the detail. Gonzo UX tends to favor style over fact to achieve accuracy — if accuracy is in fact meant to be achieved at all — because we often use our own personal experiences and emotions to provide context for the topic or solution being covered. It disregards the “polished”, edited solution favoured by the esoteric usability cronies and strives for a more gritty, personable approach. Sometimes you see the personality of a solution is just as important as the problem the solution is trying to fix.

If you have a tendency when you’re selling solutions in to use quotations, sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and profanity then you may in fact be practising Gonzo UX and you don’t even know it.

So as of today I’m actually adding ‘Gonzo UX’ to our companies list of approaches. As a term, for our clients, and I’m going to make sure our team are proud to do it when the time is appropriate.

“What? The client won’t pay for research and insight?” It’s a Gonzo solution.

“Oh my god, that insight work sucks but I’ve only got 2 days to craft a response!” It’s a Gonzo solution.

“This project is just going to be DULL and UNINSPIRING if I follow this research and tailor it to this dudettes life” I’ll go a little bit Gonzo for the sake of making it good rather than average.

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