Everybody’s doin’ it. Investing in it. Making it a part of their business. Wondering if it just might be the driver of their business.
The context for this moment is … everything that has gone before. And UX is all about context. So, let’s take a moment to look back and consider how we got here…
A Brief History of UX
The conscious study of efficiency has been a science of sorts for about a century now, fueled largely by industrial mechanization and mass production. Initially identified as human factors and ergonomics, the focus was on designing equipment and machines for easy use by (the physical limitations of ) humans.
Then we started creating thinking machines – and the “usability” challenge expanded to include cognitive science. One of the first advocates of this more holistic approach was Don Norman, who is credited with popularizing the term User Experience:
I invented the term because I thought Human Interface and usability were too narrow: I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual. — Don Norman
An important theme emerged at this time, as well. User-centricity went beyond production efficiency to propose that successful design was a function of user satisfaction.
The Steamroller of History
IT Meets the Web
In the middle of the 20th century, businesses invested heavily in computerized automation. It was centralized, top-down: largely mechanistic and efficiency-oriented, driven by Big Iron (mainframe computers). The “corporate IT shop” was simply a more powerful extension of the existing business model.
Suddenly – in the mid-70’s – a new paradigm emerged: A flood of cheap microcomputers gave individuals incredible power and ubiquitous networks (the Web) destroyed the old structural hierarchies. Success in the newly-defined interactive arena was now determined by the ability to self-service.
… Which brought UX front-and-center. Our immediate challenges are understanding it, describing it, and making it a part of how we work.
The one Constant is Change
The technology just keeps on coming: tablets, mobile, wearable devices, “the internet of Things”…. And we adapt quickly. There are now a couple of generations who have grown up with the understanding that all of this technology is implicit and seamless. Usability is an expectation. Which means that…
Ultimately, UX is History
UxP as a Business
UxP is the Competitive Edge
UxP is the new “killer app” for any enterprise involved in the interactive arena.
The Primary Focus
The enterprise has its own Primary Business. Often the company has grown quickly in recent years, primarily through acquisition – and is now a major international player with multiple divisions, competing in an international, technologically sophisticated landscape.
The challenges to the enterprise are cultural and operational
Like many large corporations today, the enterprise’s Secondary Business is IT. In recent years the corporate IT department has become a software development shop. The design mandate has evolved from technical implementation to customer satisfaction. The development team already knows how to deliver functional code.
The current challenge is to deliver ease-of-use
Years ago, IT & MIS simply provided “back end” service, processing business data on mainframes and serving up reports. Usability wasn’t an issue: IT served a limited audience; there was no competition and – early on the curve – there were few expectations.
That was then. Now we have the Web, a sophisticated user base and abundant competition. As a result, the IT shop must now perform more like a well-formed software development house.
What’s the main difference between an IT shop and a professional software development house?
The Competitive Edge
That’s why the enterprise’s Tertiary Business is now UxP. The emergence of Interaction Design as a skilled position marks the coming of age of the traditional IT working environment. Perhaps more importantly, it assumes an organizational vision that anticipates the future and a commitment to change the way we work. In an increasingly competitive environment, Integration is key and Usability is the competitive edge.
UxP IS uniquely capable of providing integrative “rubber meets the road” skills that answer the dual corporate challenges of cultural and operational integration.
The future challenge is change
This presents a new set of organizational and management challenges to the enterprise that wishes to increase their quality factor.
When considering UxP, it is necessary to understand that we are talking about a technically astute, customer-centric creative service bureau (emphasis on “creative”). This is a very different kind of business – one in which traditional corporate and technical managers typically have little experience.
The Challenges Ahead
UxP is still the “new kid on the block” in the traditional IT development world
In its infancy the new media concerned itself primarily with technical issues (We struggled to create the technology, make it work and accept the novelty).
In recent years we’ve finally started to focus on the quality of the experience.
The Web really embodies the emergence of “usability”: It is highly graphical, widely accessible, relatively easy to produce and use.
Our UxP Challenges are:
Who We Are
Establish an Identity The User Experience Practice must become a unified and recognized entity, both within and beyond the enterprise.
The very nature of UxP is that most UxP professionals tend to be eclectic generalists, with substantial “grey area” overlap in skillsets (information architecture, cognitive and behavioral sciences, creative presentation and software user interface engineering).
Clarify the scope and boundaries of the User Experience Practice
What We Do
Develop the Infrastructure Good design is effective only when it is implemented. Organization, documentation and process discipline are essential if we are to maintain “best practices” across the enterprise.
- Maintain Standards (templates, information repositories, behaviors)
- Define our Methodology
- Provide Guidance
Establish a structure and culture for knowledge transfer
How We Work
Define Our Process UxP acts as a liaison and design ambassador among the “cultures” in the organization (Technical, Business, Marketing). We operateacross multiple projects throughout the enterprise. Our understanding of client strategy and Internet technology allows us to design a cohesive user experience.
Champion the customer perspective
A long-term business investment in electronically-mediated relationships really deserves a long-term enterprise commitment to the User Experience Practice.
This means a major change in the conventional approach to technology development – and significant “cultural change” within the organization.
Consensus: Spread the word
In many ways the most important tasks are advocacy, education and evangelism within the organization. Of course, external clients must be convinced, too – but that’s the easy part.
Traction to Action
The big challenge is to forge a working alliance within the enterprise in order to build a design-oriented infrastructure.
Big Picture – with Solutions
As a strategic player within the enterprise, UxP can identify business opportunities, integrateapplications across business lines, and improve the development process.
© The Communication Studio LLC