In past essays of "Fast Forward," I have pondered the semiotics of the term "user experience." Meanwhile, corporate groups worldwide have been busy carrying out activities under different colors of this banner according to their own interpretations of the concept. At present, many different tribes of the CHI community are merging, re-organizing, and restructuring, to achieve a more efficient, productive, and successful development of user-centered products and services, the byproduct of which is a standard for future design.
At IBM, long-term user-advocate, Karel Vredenburg, Program Director of Corporate User-Centered Design and User Engineering, recently published his approach to the problems of interface design today [8,9]. One such approachon corporate responsibility in user-interface design and now available on IBM's intranetnot only exemplifies the trend toward consensus and refinement of user-interface design principles, but also demonstrates a trend in corporate validation of the practice.
Similarly, corporate commitment to the user-experience is expressed at the highest levels at HP, where CEO Carly Fiorina has made the concept of achieving a quality user experience the hallmark of her approach. As her Web bio proclaims, "Under her leadership, HP has returned to its roots of innovation and inventiveness and is focused on delivering the best total customer experience."
However "user-experience" is ultimately defined, corporations worldwide are rethinking their objectives, structures, and processes to achieving excellent design. This is good news for the CHI community, but it also means challenges and competition among disciplines for executive budgets and mindshare. Here are just a few of the groups that might be centralized, decentralized, matrix-managed, blended, merged, and/or purged:
- Experience design
- Graphic design, visual communications
- Hardware design, engineering
- Human factors, ergonomics
- Industrial design, product design
- Industrial engineering
- Marketing communication
- Software engineering
- Technical documentation
- User engineering
- User-centered design
- User-interface design, development
- User-experience design, engineering
CHI's own Internet discussions recently focused, in part, and significantly, on how to organize and manage user-experience groups. Many are asking fundamental questions, and managers with different areas of expertise and experience have generously shared their views. I have been monitoring this traffic and summarize here what seem to be the critical issues for success.
In an era in which usability, usefulness, and appeal all vie for attention, corporate managers face the complex task of educating and working with executives, management, staff, third-party vendors, customers, and users/customers across many disciplines. Their objectives are complex, but revolve around best practices, development processes, and organization to achieve success in terms of bottom line, sales, costs, technology, customer satisfaction, and brand. The lists on pages 26 and 27 are an initial organization of these issues for those strategizing a winning user-experience, be it in development, design, business, marketing, or engineering groups.
The industry is rapidly evolving new paradigms for doing business under ever tighter constraints of budget and increased demands for metrics, accountability, and well-managed processes. It seems likely that within a year or two, many major corporations will have significantly re-organized their groups, developed best-practice resources, and retargeted their focus. Giving attention now to asking the right questions and taking time to explore their answers will give CHI-community professionals enhanced competence and status in leading the groups that produce better user experiences in the decade ahead.
How do/should you promote best practices? Intranet, publications, workshops, proselytizing, and/or convince the CEO?
What would/should your internal customers say is the value proposition your group brings to the: company, the external customer, the development process?
Are you viewed as a strategic resource, or a service organization? Why/why not? Is this good or bad for your future role?
How do/should you create, store, make available, monitor, and maintain best practices? Paper, digital, and/or other media? Committees, watchdog groups, and/or roving unannounced inspections by the user-experience police?
What are/should be the topics of best practice? Where does it stop, e.g., do you include marketing advice/requirements for designers who are placed in decentralized offices?
What technology/techniques support best practices: Intranet? Extranet? Collection of documents? Paper publications such as newsletters or periodicals? Special group of evangelists? Tutorials? Executive workshops?
Are/should you push beyond usability and product design into the realm of branding and brand management?
Do you think there is/should be a tight mapping or natural transference of user-experience skill sets to brand management?
Is branding a good field in which to expand the influence and impact of user experience development on a company? Why/Why not?
What are the opportunities, challenges, and risks of user-experience staff assuming branding tasks, or claiming/performing branding skills/tasks?
What development process do/should you follow?
What are the main phases or steps called?
Who develops/authorizes/maintains/monitors the process?
What impact do/should international, regional, local differences have on this process?
How might people be organized better to "work this process"?
Does/should your group utilize any type of metrics to gauge successes? Which? How?
Have you/should you benchmark current or past practice?
How can return-on-investment (ROI) be communicated to ensure budgets for this activity?
How does/should a group get funded?
Do you charge your client for your work? How do you invoice? How do you get paid?
Where can one go to get advice, history, metrics, and best practices on getting funding?
Where can one get ROI data to support initiatives?
What are/should be the hot topics of user experience?
How can/should they drive allocation of resources, markets, best practices vs. next practices?
What role does research play in your group and exploration of hot topics?
How do/should you manage your group?
Centralized? Decentralized? Matrixed? Virtual?
Do you have an oversight group to monitor, manage, promote best practices?
How can you/should you manage funding, budget allocation, political relations across functional groups and disciplines?
What models do/should you use for your organization?
What unique models are people trying/should be tried besides the traditional ones?
Have you considered/should you consider an organization based on teams focused on user models and/or user types (profiles, personas)?
Is there/should there be a concerted effort to define user types corporate-wide? How can you get buy-in to this approach?
How is your team organized? How could/should it be? Are you centralized or decentralized? Matrixed? Should you be?
What do big/small companies need?
What is the impact of position, corporate culture, and level of support for user-experience-oriented development?
Where in the organization does the group reside? Should it be so?
Is the corporation/your own organization fundamentally aligned with the need for user-centered design?
Does the group have a champion that is in a position of authority, accountability, and influence to support the group? If not, how can you develop such a champion?
How many people need to be in a proper small team to be successful?
As the organization grows does it become easier to do high-gain projects (e.g., improved methodologies, internal standards, process improvement support, etc.)?
As the organization grows, do you/should you drive strategically important projects (i.e., be assertive in getting involved as opposed to just being responsive)?
What can guide the evolution of organization? Evaluation procedures? Best practice documents?
Is it possible to semi-decentralize?
How many people are/should be in your group for maximum effectiveness?
To whom do/should people report? How? How often?
What are the types of disciplines involved in your group?
Should engineering be involved in cross-disciplinary teams? Why/Why not?
Should marketing be involved in cross-disciplinary teams? Why/Why not?
Should business/product managers be involved in cross-disciplinary teams? Why/Why not?
Should representative user-managers and/or users themselves be involved in cross-disciplinary teams? Why/Why not?
What are the numbers of people (distinguished by management, professionals, and administrators) in each of the discipline groups?
How do/should you market and sell your work?
Do you offer training as well as professional services? What kind? What subjects? How often? How charged? How managed?
How do you work with third parties to complete client projects? Send out work? Bring staff on your site? Bring staff onto client site?
Does your group actively sell/promote its work to your internal customers? How?
How do you evangelize?
Do you know who your key stakeholders are? Are they generally recognized and communicated with in your organization?
Are you planning for off-shore provision of services? How? With whom?
What disciplines are best kept within your own area to preserve core expertise?
What tasks are best given to others?
To whom should one assign the outside tasks?
How can one set up an efficient process to certify and monitor outside resources?
What tools for calendar, project planning, timesheets, invoicing, reporting, etc., are/should be used? (Design groups have long complained that applications designed/built for engineering and business do not serve their own needs, and vice-versa.)
What tools for research, analysis, design, implementation, evaluation, documentation, training, maintenance are/should be used?
Specifically, what tools for prototyping are/should be used? Does your group manage/maintain these tools?
9. Vredenburg, Karl, Kay M. Stanney, Gavriel Salvendy, and Masamitsu Oshima, Editors (2002). Designing the Total User Experience at IBM: An Examination of Case Studies, Research Findings, and Advanced Methods. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Aaron Marcus, President
Aaron Marcus and Associates, Inc. (AM+A)
©2004 ACM 1072-5220/04/0500 $5.00
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