— 21 February 2005 —

On the Ownership of User Experience

There are many items floating around the User eXperience blogland related to who owns the user experience.

I’ve sounded off on this before due to a couple of posts on OK/Cancel and Wodtke’s site. Well a new post and comic are up on the OK/Cancel site this week, and being the introvert who is really an extrovert, I have a response.

Who Owns UX?

Those who sign the paycheques of the people who design and test the product or service in question.

Thank you.

Know the Law. Don’t Be the Law

We designers and usabilityers are like lawyers.

We can identify the risks to business and give them mitigation strategies, but it is up to them to decide what they really want to do. Why? Because it’s their money. If they want to design some software that everyone hates, against your well-reasoned and research-backed conclusions, so be it. Look how many times Microsoft has gone out of business because of the crap they sometimes produce.

We certainly have a serious responsibility toward making the user’s experience a positive one. But the bottom line is that we own nothing, nor should we. The further down the development cycle you are, the less say you have over the decisions made. So if you are a QCer, you basically have no say. Sorry, but that’s just the cycle.

If you want to have more responsibility over the user experience you must position yourself in that sweet spot where those wacky business people sit around and say, “Hey, Brandine, I gots me an idear!” (Just kidding busifolks, I love ya.) That way you can influence decisions as they are being made. If you are stuck influencing decisions like where to put widget X, you are not contributing much to the user experience.

We are all part of a System of Commerce: business, users (you know… people!), designers, testers, developers, and even project managers. We all influence each other and hopefully are all working toward a better tomorrow today.

But until you are in a position to sign the cheques, you have nothing but a responsibility to challenge business decisions with research-based knowledge, challenge development choices that could impact the performance of this System of Commerece, challenge users to be better users, and finally challenge yourself to not get in the way.

I love you all, but many of you take this crap waaaay too seriously. Chill. Be curious. Help people. Think big. Own nothing but a good work ethic and a desire to learn.

Somewhat Related

This is probably one of those connections that only I seem to see, but take a look at this paper on the effectiveness of usability evaluation methods (104k PDF) from Bonnie John and Steven Marks. It’s from 1996/97, but still holds some interest. Their “effectiveness tree” could be another layer to Tom’s bubble maps in the OK/Cancel article that would help define whether a solution bubble was reached.

Both designers and usabilityers (if they are any good) follow a process of discovery to find the best solution, it’s just that usabilityers tend to document the process. That best solution is based on business drivers, user needs, and technical constraints, and it is usually only the best solution now. Iteration in all things is key, helping you get to the next best solution.

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Snook Approved!