UnUXpected Lessons: Queer Eye
Season 3 of Queer Eye came out this weekend on Netflix, and as usual, it is Life Giving. My best friend introduced the show to me when I was still learning about UX design in…gosh, 2017 now? Time flies. I’ve since begun my profesh career in product design, and there is NOTHING better than being able to site such a joyful show with my personal design process.
Without further ado, here are four things that are excellent takeaways from emotion-inducing Queer Eye that I’m applying/continuing to apply to my every day design work.
They know how to tell a story
At the very beginning of every episode, the Fab Five are the GMC and are reviewing who they’ll be visiting for the week. They talk about the nominee and the nominator, and why they’ve been called upon for help. Clips of the unsuspecting lucky chosen one will be shown, and we, as the audience, start getting a sense of the person in their natural environment. By the end of the episode, our protagonist will show off their new-found skills during a special event of some sort.
Why do they do this? We (the audience) hear stories straight from our protagonist of the episode, coupled with insights from the nominator. The individual will have varying levels of self-introspection. The Fab Five is setting up the story for us to see how they approach people, knowing that they need to keep an open mind in order to see how they can help. Go for that story set up when you’re pitching an idea, sharing your research, or asking for feedback during a crit.
They understand how to communicate
I sometimes think about how much I would LOVE to be an interviewee of the Fab Five. A massive part of the storytelling aspect of QE is listening to how each of the experts ask questions. It never sounds like it’s coming from a script, and that’s something we can all try to do as we approach generative interviews. Why? People are comfortable with sharing more information when you are genuinely interested in them as a human being. Who knew?
Within the first five minutes of the show, the boys have defined the protagonist’s Job to Be Done. There’s an ideal version of everyone, and their job is not to change the person, but to bring out those ideal traits that help make them a better person. They ask questions so that they are able to listen, and then they rephrase what they’ve learned to make sure they’re on the same page.
They meet people where they are
A big part of the show is how the Fab Five challenges social norms in several different layers: they know they’re not the “norm” in America, and they make it a point to travel to places like the deep south to learn more about the live of other people. They have been very open and transparent with their makeover participants about their own past experiences. They know how to incorporate their respective backgrounds in order to empathize with others, and they do it without overstepping or insinuating that they know what’s best.
What does this mean? Some designers may have a past in, say, teaching. If they’re in edtech and they’re trying to design a solution to something, they won’t be saying, “We are doing it x way because that’s how I did it when I was teaching a class.” They’ll be saying, “I’ve seen things happen in x way in the past when I was teaching a class; I have a good understanding of the problem, but I want to make sure we’re exploring more perspectives…based on what we know about this person.”
It’s important to be able to empathize with people when you actually have that experience to share. That vulnerability helps us in learning more about someone new. Being humble means being able to actually hear how someone is currently approaching an issue.
They know what to present and when
Each expert has their own way of suggesting positive changes to their protagonists; what they offer are seamless, small changes that end up making a big difference. We follow the makeover (or “make-better”) candidate through the five big topics: fashion, grooming, interior design, food and wine, and culture.
Jonathan (grooming), Tan (fashion), and Antoni (food and wine) share their expertise and changes immediately. Here’s where we see haircuts, skin care routines, wardrobe improvements, and a quick recipe to learn for the big event at the end of the week. These are small tweaks to an existing lifestyle. In UX design world, this is a lot like making small changes to a product (so don’t ever think any change is too small, because you never know when that change is going to be significant enough to be life-changing).
Bobby (interior design) is by far the most wizardly person in my opinion, because he transforms an ENTIRE SPACE in the span of a week, which is madness. This is a massive redesign that reflects the protagonist’s strengths, and that change will stick with them for a long time. Yes, this can be likened to a full site/app redesign, but I would also see this as building a new product or feature.
Karamo (culture) is someone who is amazing at communication, and all the changes that he brings are often the ones that dig deep, well past the surface level. Culture is a broad term, but every time I’ve seen him work his magic, I see it in the form of the protagonist having a very real introspective moment. In design land, I would liken him to a brand designer, because he really gets to the heart and the identity of the person he’s helping. (He’s also kind of like a life coach, but I’m not saying that brand = life coach, okay??)
The important part of all this is the when aspect. They’re never dumping everything in one go. They work off of each other’s iterations, they make sure their hero is doing all right, and then they continue their work.
Look, you know you should probably refrain from showing off a high-fidelity mock when you’ve just started to ideate. Show your stakeholders piece by piece, when it makes sense to do so. If they’re only looking for progress, they will likely get concerned when they see something that looks like it could almost be ready for production: show them user flows, low-fidelity wireframes, all that good stuff (and hopefully it’s well-labelled and anyone can pick it up and understand where your head is). But if you’re already in the late stages of the design process, yes, then it’s time to show the shininess.
They express legitimate joy for their heroes
At the end of every episode, the boys watch their baby birds make first attempts at flying without their help. They’ve done their work, they’ve shown the hero how to do a few things, they’ve given them a new home and a new perspective. Stepping back and making sure the hero is okay is an essential part of the QE design process. If their advice didn’t stick, I think we can safely assume that they would never blame it on the protagonist. They probably think about how they could have shared their information in a way that was better received.
If you’re an in-house designer, make sure you take the the time to QA before something goes out, and revisit after a design has been live. See what went well, and what could have been improved. Work together with your team to see what V2 could look like in the future.
And there you have it. My take on Queer Eye and why I try to apply their nuggets of wisdom to my work every day…and honestly, just so I can keep trying to be a better human being in general.
Design responsibly, my friends.