IDEA10 Lesson: UX as Belly Dancing

IDEA10 closed out with a bang. A group of over 20 of us descended on Marrakesh, a small Moroccan restaurant with a nondescript red door that you must recognize and knock on to enter. Walk up the narrow steps, past the dancing pole, and enter the private room where we await our 7 course meal. We wash our hands with rose water and the first course arrives. Then the belly dancer comes out. Asking the occasion of our meal I point to @jeffparks and claim it is his birthday. All 25 people in the room point to a different person and say the same, a Mexican standoff of sorts. We settle on Jeff. Called on stage, he learns a few dance moves. @ixdiego and @ejaeson follows.

It’s a sideways wink, glance and smile

Now why am I writing about this? It’s not because it was funny to see our friends in that situation. More because later that evening, as we waited for the midnight showing of Alien, we discussed how UX is a lot like Belly Dancing.

Belly Dancing is Spontaneous

When designing, there is a certain part of the process that is improvisational and spontaneous. You don’t know what you are going to draw when sharpie first hits paper, or what the diagram will come to look like when synthesizing data. It’s improvisational and ever evolving. You don’t know what you are making until it is done. Much the same way, dancers know the result – to entertain – but don’t know how the crowd might respond. They are constantly adjusting their approach to best suit their audience and to have the most successful engagement.

Same Patterns, Different Results

Despite being spontaneous, dancers have their specific moves. They train and they rehearse new combinations, but the core skills are the same. Our volunteers each learned three moves, that they can order and combine for a myriad of dances. Much the same, designers have a toolbox of methods and processes and the recombination of these allows for new products at each turn.

Belly Dancing is Under Scrutiny

Scrutiny might be harsh. But this type of dancing is often criticized and questioned for its validity compared other forms of the same artform. Much the same, designers gain scrutiny. Why do we need designers and can’t go straight into development, what makes you different than a glorified artist, and why do I need to draw this – that’s what I am paying you for, are all things heard throughout the design community. It is gaining the confidence to answer these questions and to gain support that separates the men from the boys so to speak.

Belly Dancing Requires Confidence

It was mentioned during the collaborative brain storm that belly dancing is “a sideways wink, glance and smile”. It requires knowing that all eyes are on you and not caring. It requires confidence. Design is the same. Lead a room of stakeholders and all eyes are on you. You have to know when to turn to one part of the audience or the other, when to turn around and just draw, when to speak and when to shut up.

In Closing

So in truth, UX as Belly Dancing might be a bit of a stretch. But there are certain similarities. Being a designer requires confidence, spontaneity, a toolbox of skills, and is under scrutiny (both internally and externally). While there are likely many more better metaphors, this one will likely stick with those of us at dinner.

And if the pictures aren’t enough, some video of two of the volunteers.

Link to Video/Photo Album

A special thanks to Jeff, Jaeson, and DIego for being good sports during the meal. Also a special thanks to everyone who was at the dinner, Alien afterwards and shared in brainstorming this, at the time, joke of an article topic. Finally, thank you to Murray Thompson, @userallusion, for whom without we would not have these photos or video.

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