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  • Writer's pictureRob

Respect, real and otherwise

Early on in my career, I lived in perpetual fear of software engineers.

I realize that most of us probably do, of course; the low-grade perpetual miasma of fear that programmers control pretty much every part of the modern world, and that maybe one day they'll just decide to turn off the internet and the ATMs and the Ubers, and then where will we all be?

No, my fear was much more specific.

When I was hired as a user experience designer right out of graduate school, my job was to imagine screen layouts and workflows that would let users complete their tasks with a minimum of confusion, and hand my designs off to the software engineers who would make them real and build them into the system. But before they started their work, I would always meet with the engineering team to go through the design I had made, step by step, to make sure they understood what was supposed to happen, and so that they could ask me any question they had about the design.

And sometimes that question was "Is this really a good experience for the user?" This question always threw me. I mean, I was the designer. Went to school for it and everything. If I said it was a good experience for the user, then dammit, it was a good user experience because I said so.

A decade and change into my design career I now have a much different way of working with engineers. I still get questions all the time about whether a design is a good user experience, but what's different now is the way I react to the question. If I have a solid reason, from usability testing we've done, or client interviews the expressed a specific need it's solving, then I explain the reason. And if I don't have a solid reason why, if it was just something that had worked before, or just seemed like a good idea, then I listen.. Quite a few times it's gotten me to rethink an assumption I'd made or just led to a good idea that had never occurred to me. A couple nice side effects happen when you approach things this way - sometimes, the result is a better design, and pretty much all the time, the result is more respect and trust between colleagues. If they know I am listening to them and not just dismissing their thoughts because I'm the designer, damn you, it means that when I do need to fight for a design that really is crucial, they're more likely to listen to what I'm saying, because they know it's important.

All of that rattles around in my brain when I read laments about modern marriage and how men get no respect anymore (recent example in the Wall Street Journal; see also pretty much anything Scott Adams writes about women). But here's the thing about respect - if it's not earned, it's not real. Anyone who laments the "good old days" when manly men were kings of their castles and ruled the household with a firm but benevolent fist isn't pining for actual respect; they are pining for the unquestioned appearance of respect.

If anything is changing about modern marriage it's this: You no longer get to say I'm the man, that's why. If you want to be treated with respect, you have to act in a way that deserves respect. That means being respectful of your partner, of course, but it also means being honest about your needs and being able to express them to your partner. If you think it's humiliating to take your daughter to mommy-and-me classes, then the right thing to do is not to whine about it to other men; the right thing to do is to sit down with your partner and work out a solution that doesn't leave anyone feeling humiliated.

This means there will be conflict. And of course that's hard. But if men are as tough and practical as the good-old-daysers claim they are, they shouldn't be afraid of conflict, right?


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