Myths To Design By

Session Title

Myths To Design By


Chris Baum, Consultant

Session Type: Presentation

Where did myth become a bad thing?

Everywhere you look, myth is used as an easy handle to identify fallacies. “Top 10 Myths of User Experience” and “Myths of Interaction Design” are titles often used for articles and presentations to capture people’s attention. The intent here is good – help people avoid making mistakes and base their practice on wrong-headed, but widely accepted ideas.

However, the misuse of “myth” here signals a larger problem – that, for all its practical applications, the design disciplines struggle for a deeper grounding, holding the larger community back from realizing our true potential. We debate definitions and boundaries endlessly, far past the point of usefulness.

It’s time to reclaim “myth” for it’s real purpose. Myths are metaphors that provide connection to the underlying social structure and belief systems. In the most discussed cases, mythic stories explore sacred or metaphysical ideas, but they also play large roles in knitting together the social fabric of a culture.

In his seminal career, Joseph Campbell used a comparative method to illustrate foundational issues with many of the worlds cultural myths. He examined myths from across the globe.

Looking at his work, and that of others like Abraham Maslow and Carl Jung, it is possible to start sketching out a Mythology of User Experience. This mythology is comprised of strains from all of the communities of practice – interaction design, information architecture, user research, content design, etc. – working together using our individual practices to realize the promise of the technologies available to us, in service to the people using them and the organizations leveraging them.

When talking about why myths are important, Campbell highlights a statement made by the Dalai Lama on his first visit to New York City.

“Keep up your practice. The results do not happen fast; this is not an instant realization. And as you practice, you will become aware of a change of consciousness. Do not become attached to your method, for when your consciousness will have changed, you will recognize that all methods are intending the one goal.” – Dalai Lama, New York, 1979

The UX disciplines find ourselves in a situation similar the larger geo-political climate – where there was, at one time, clear separations between cultures, technology and interaction have created a single, large global community. In these situations, myths mingle and change. During these times, it is very hard to see how the myths will blend and emerge.

In this session, we will explore the mythic elements of our various communities to:
- See how the larger UX community fits together
- Find methods to uncover the myths held by user and business stakeholders
- Make better decisions about what features and inputs are important in the design process
- Create ever more effective and meaningful designs


Chris helps orgs (and people) apply their wisdom practically. Mostly this manifests itself as information architecture, user research, and interaction design. He also shepherds Boxes & Arrows.

An unapologetic Midwesterner, Chris now enjoys the many pleasures of San Francisco.


  1. Posted September 16, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Have you seen Stephen Anderson’s Rock Bands presentation? It’s a clever adaptation of mythology theory to describe IxD.

  2. Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Yes, I’ve seen it, but had filed it away. Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Fahey. :)

  3. Posted September 21, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    w00t! I’m a huge campbell fan, this should rock…

  4. Posted September 21, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I would love to see this presentation!

  5. Posted September 30, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    This sounds great!. Excited to see someone acknowledge the role of mythology in the things we create.

  6. Posted October 1, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    you had me at myth