Whose profession is it anyway?

XII.3 May + June 2005
Page: 23
Digital Citation

User experience

Peter Bogaards, Ruurd Priester

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The design disciplines participating in the digital domain are increasingly caught up with the question of legitimate ownership of user experience (UX). True interdisciplinary work is still not common practice among the design specialties. The discussion consequently expresses a sense of both competition and confusion.

We must take good user experience seriously, looking beyond the superficial and delving into its deeper and more essential qualities. Creating a high-quality user experience involves complex and varied aspects of design.

Many digital products fail to fulfill the real needs of people. They do not really make life easier or more enjoyable. Too many products are difficult to use and unstable in use. Often products are no more than weak attempts to solve the problems that other even more inadequate products have introduced into people's lives. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of this reality, and turning away from product developers whose products don't deliver quality. In many industries, brand loyalty is dropping rapidly as a result.

UX professionals cannot by themselves remedy this situation and would risk their credibility in trying to do so. A poorly conceived and implemented product does not result in a high-quality user experience.

The work of user experience is complex and its scope is broad. Many things shape a user's experience, including:

  • the user interface in all its dimensions
  • the quality of content
  • the way a product facilitates community
  • how a company provides user support
  • a company's online offerings

UX is the net result of all the impressions a company and its products make on users. In order to offer a high-quality UX, we must carefully orchestrate all aspects of the user experience. This is difficult, because our field is young and our environment is changing quickly.

Offer your design expertise to the key business stakeholders in your company. Act as their sparring partner, and help them to refine their ideas and turn them into prototypes.

Architecture is another discipline that is essentially about user experience, but it can draw from a wealth of knowledge and traditions, and its context is changing much less rapidly. Still, we see bad architecture everywhere. Designing a high-quality user experience is a major challenge that sets high demands on our creativity and intellect, as well as our ability to break through boundaries within organizations.

So, who owns UX? Within savvy organizations, the key business stakeholders own UX because:

  • They know that, in the end, UX is about the creation of great products that people really want and can enjoy using.
  • They understand the importance of delivering a high-quality user experience in this rapidly "virtualizing" world.
  • Only they have the power to structure their organizations in such a way that every employee contributes to the delivery of a high-quality user experience.

If practitioners of the various design disciplines do not own UX, what opportunities do we have for making a difference in user experience?

As companies become sensitive to user experience issues, our first opportunity as designers is to seek advancement within our companies. Obtain a deep understanding of the real needs of consumers. Learn how to relate these needs strategically to business considerations such as Web presence or a company's SWOTs (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). Offer your design expertise to the key business stakeholders in your company. Act as their sparring partner, and help them to refine their ideas and turn them into prototypes.

Our second opportunity is to position ourselves as all-around user experience experts. This requires a broad skill set and knowledge of the diverse elements that factor into user experience design, as well as the ability to balance all of these factors in creating optimal user experiences. In this role, we have the opportunity to build bridges between the various design specialties and facilitate collaboration between them.

A third opportunity is to master one of the user experience design specialties at the guru level. There will always be a need for experts who have a very deep understanding of some specific aspect of user experience design.

Finally, as a designer, stop engaging in the mutual competition and infighting that currently exist between design specialties regarding UX ownership. Recognize the true meaning, impact, and scope of user experience, choose your strategy for success, work together with your peers, and have fun creating great products.

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Peter Bogaards

Ruurd Priester

About the Authors:

Peter J. Bogaards is an independent information designer and information architect. Prior he was head of information design and usability for Razorfish Amsterdam. Peter co-founded both the Amsterdam New Media Association (ANMA) and the Dutch chapter of ACM SIGCHI. He has been a member on the advisory board of The Information Architecture Institute and is now advisor to the Information Design Exchange initiative of the University of Idaho. He has degrees in both Instructional Technology and Applied Linguistics from the University of Amsterdam. Peter is the primary force behind "InfoDesign: Understanding by Design" (informationdesign.org) which he started in 1997.

Ruurd Priester, trained as graphic designer, is one of the Dutch user experience pioneers. In 1986, he co-founded Lijn Vier Multimedia Design, the first Dutch digital design agency. Currently, he is principal designer/consultant and member of the management board at Informaat, a leading Dutch UX company, with a strong presence in the financial industry. As advisor and designer, he is associated with "InfoDesign: Understanding by Design" (informationdesign.org), one of the worlds primary online resources on digital design.

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©2005 ACM  1072-5220/05/0500  $5.00

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