Less UX fluff and more Proof of the pudding!
In recent years the flaws in user experience design (UX) based in wireframe exercises have become more evident to professional IT people as the business has become flooded with unqualified people.
User experience is the interior designer of the computing world
I recently heard from a Bank that they wanted people with less fluffy thinking, there is a certain perception that user experience design is the interior designer of the computing world. Designers don’t need analytics (engineering principals), computer languages (material science), usability testing experience (ergonomics), user research experience (anthropometrics, human behavioural science), business management, project management all they need is colour theory and basic graphics.
Clients should expect measurable proof (KPI’s) before development
Because user experience appears to afford a rapid project method, the point is being missed on many expensive projects “diagrams are not proof of delivery”, solid KPI’s showing the process to form them, what they deliver, how and when they can be measured and what the success criteria is should be required for investment. Businesses rightly need to show that they are not wasting money to shareholders and the public (in the case of publicly owned or supported) but for the most part UX is not based on research but uses design patterns. The problem with design patterns is that there are huge risks associated with using them without doing any primary research. Such research would also provide UX KPI’s for businesses.
Who is qualified in UX?
This is a difficult question to answer as no professional body currently represents user experience at a professional level (including the UXPA), so in effect anyone can call themselves a user experience designer, architect or consultant.
I know a lot of employment agencies get burned by people who can’t do the job and digital agencies go through a string of low paid, no experience people. In one case I reviewed an in house UX person’s work after the digital agency called me in to smooth out a relationship with a major brand client who said they “would not pay for this crap”. The UX person’s work was rubbish, wireframe notation non-existent and no functional specification how they expected to pass it to a developer I have no idea.
Verbal communication is a key aspect of the job and this person was very shy. From my side I have an MSc in Computer Science and a BA in Design, plus professional qualifications.
Characteristics of UX people
When I interview UX people I look for great communicators who can not only talk about the subject but also about themselves with confidence, who have a wide experience in usability, research and computing (I always use control questions as well, where I know the best practice answer).
- I look for opinionated people who can back up their views, passionate people (but not falling into the advocacy fight user vs. business) who are balanced and know what to fight for at the right point in a project.
- I look for logical thinkers and while this might sound easy it’s one of the hardest skills to find.
- I will usually ask the person to describe an interactive system they have designed as it shows the logic model used and dependencies they have recognised.
- I also look for professional people, UX people are not rock stars they are service providers.
- I expect them to be respectful of people and their time, attend planned / booked meetings and advise or change meetings if they are running late.
- I also expect them to have professional indemnity insurance, why would they not, if they are professionals?
Formal scientific methods, rather than the pseudo science used in marketing
Beyond the above UX people need formal scientific methods, rather than the pseudo science used in marketing that is leaking into UX at the moment.
Business people need proof they can show the board of directors sometime just to release the funding more often to show them they are competent.
I was heartened recently when a VP from a major consultancy mentioned the use of Ethnographics, I think he was shocked to find out I created the method in 2002 for usability studies as a digital enactment method based upon ethnography. Someone has always created methods (I have created six and defined four key concepts in research) so be careful when you talk about them as you may be talking to their creators.
The proof of the pudding or just a guess and can the business afford the risk?
Scientific methods create repeatable (rigorous; extremely thorough, exhaustive and accurate) results that can be used as the bases of complex interactive systems design without these types of methods is just a guess.
In previous years it has been the domain of Managing Directors and Heads of Department to go with their gut feeling about how their customers and clients want to interact with them, now it’s UX people.
Can businesses really afford to risk so much on the guess of a UX person or would they rather mitigate the risk with some research and KPI’s first?