Colorful textured set of geometric and organic shapes.
Art by Adam Quest

I once got lost walking less than a mile away from home.

“How is that possible?”, you (and my husband) ask.

I blame it on the fact that my phone died. But the truth is that I had become 100% reliant on GPS.

With each journey, I was unintentionally overlooking landmarks, local gems, and the pure richness of whatever landscape I happened to be traveling through in exchange for the little blue line telling me where to go on my screen.

GPS was my proxy for guidance and direction.

Last month, during my interview with Qian Wang, CTO and co-founder of Informed K12, Qian mentioned that a large ingredient in their company’s recipe for success involved the awareness and avoidance of proxies within the organization.

This stuck with me.

I thought about how GPS guided me from Point A to Point B without accounting for important-to-remember details along the way, and how proxies work similarly for product leaders in tech who are trying to lead their teams to the right design solution.

I decided to explore proxies more deeply to try and understand the controversy behind them within the UX industry.

In product design and development, proxies are processes, tools, and metrics that teams use to better understand what users really need or how they behave.

They provide a general overview of users without fully capturing the individual nuances and complexities of unique experiences.

Proxies can help bridge the gap between designers, developers, and end-users by:

  1. Building user empathy
  2. Usability testing and product validation
  3. Informing design decisions
  4. Enabling effective communication and collaboration

Relying on proxies may seem like a good thing because they are faster, cheaper, and more efficient than the elongated and often tedious tasks that they were designed to represent.

But as the old saying goes, “Everything is good…in moderation.”


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