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XX.5 September + October 2013
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Blog: The UX ownership war is over ... and we have lost!

(by Daniel Rosenberg; http://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/the-ux-ownership-war-is-over-and-we-have-lost)

Despite the truth of what you say and my own experiences, I’m not so sure the episode you recount indicates the final battle in the war. On the contrary, I would say it opens another valuable front in the struggle to assert the importance, methods, and results of interaction design.

While you’re undoubtedly correct that a) it will suck to sit across the table from an MBA who pretends he knows the difference between a radio button and a check box and collects a big fat check at the end of the year for his troubles, it is also true that b) designers living near Johns Hopkins, etc. should march over to that school and get on the faculty and/or get in the program and make a difference.

This is an infinite game, not a finite game. Keep on truckin’!

David Fore

My take: yes but no but yes but no. IMHO the UX agenda hasn’t really been owned by trained designers in the first place. I think it’s a win and a noble experiment to try to train design-focused MBAs.

First, there aren’t enough of us in the pipelines to have reached significant across-the-board leadership positions, specifically in the tech industry. Most of those programs have been around for 10 or 15 years. (I’m from CMU HCI’s second graduating undergrad class.)

Second, companies are so starved for raw production design skills that designers are seen as desperately needed producers of interaction and visuals, but aren’t “needed” to contribute strategic vision: There are plenty of MBAs for that. You’ve usually got so much work to do that sitting in the meetings and negotiating for this or that feature is not how you’re allowed to use your time.

Third, designers seem less likely to have the skillsets that most companies see as necessary for strategic product leadership: This includes marketing, market research, raw business analysis, plus the “soft skills” of political leadership, negotiation, etc. Because designers’ specialty skills are in such demand, they aren’t particularly given the space to develop these other skills the way, say, an APM is required to develop them.

Great design doesn’t happen solely because of the design talent. It also takes leadership that prioritizes design at the highest levels—from the CEO on down. Someone who is a designer isn’t necessarily the person who has to be doing this. Someone who is an MBA but values and understands design can be.

I think if you want to strategically impact user experience you shouldn’t be a designer in today’s tech climate and I don’t think there are enough of us to change things yet. You should be a product manager who has a strong background in user-centered design and UX. There’s a glass ceiling for designers; if you want to really be senior in the software industry you need to be a PM, not a designer.

Ellen B.

My experience is in total opposition to yours. I just interviewed for an executive director position at Honeywell’s Chemical’s group. And they have hired UX VPs at a few of their other divisions. This is the trend. GE is doing this as well. These are roles with direct contact to the CEO and can clearly compete for senior leadership roles guiding the strategy of the organizations. Couple this with the trend among tech startups to include a design co-founder and I think your anecdote is just that, a single data point.

But the other premise in your piece is weird to me. Of course, the MBAs own strategy. They have and will always own strategy. It is only recently that UX has even been considered a strategic initiative and in most organizations it hasn’t even risen to that level.

But further, I’m very confused with the presumptions here: a) that designers can’t get this or any other MBA or similar design management degree, and b) that the program is devoid of design teaching. And further, that business people can’t learn design. It is a normal path for technology folks to get an MBA as part of their career path if they want to go into product management and rise through the business/strategy ranks. Why not do this through design?

Having taught alongside the design management program at SCAD, I have seen great business and engineering folks become more than competent designers. They aren’t the best designers, but given the positions they are going into they don’t have to be the best designers, they have to be the best strategists, analysts, managers, and leaders.

Dave Malouf

Blog: The new Gmail interface: better or worse?

(by Elizabeth Churchill; http://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/the-new-gmailinterface-better-or-worse)

Interesting post! For me, the changes have been mostly positive, and I am someone who formats text in email fairly frequently. However as an “expert” user, I’ve been using keyboard shortcuts to do most common tasks like bold, underline, and italics. I would guess that’s another reason for the low utilization of point-and-click for these features. As for the compose window, it’s definitely further from the compose button. However, it’s a dramatic improvement when replying to an existing conversation, which I find myself doing much more frequently. Just a counterpoint and a reminder that an interface as complex as Gmail involves many design trade-offs. I wouldn’t automatically suppose Google’s designers have forgotten basic UX principles just because the changes are not universally better.

Andrew Miller

“In my opinion, as a user of a free service I am not entitled to complain.” Why ever not?

People offer “free” services because they get something from doing so. It might only be a feeling of satisfaction that people like what is being provided. It might be that they believe you will like whatever is being given away well enough that you will in the future pay for that or another product/service. Or, there might be, as in Google’s case, a financial reward that comes not from the direct users but from advertisers who wish to reach those users. In any case, an offer is made and accepted. Free or not, you are entitled to complain about the product or service, especially if what is offered is something that will have an ongoing role in your life. Any organization, be it a non-profit or a for profit business, is foolish to not listen when users of its “free” services become unhappy. We all have alternatives and users will seek out what best suits them. Google may be betting that only a tiny minority will leave, and they may well be right, at least in the short term. But I would bet that many people who stay because it is easier to stay than to leave will change from being enthusiastic Gmail users to resigned Gmail users who will no longer encourage others to try it and who will be highly susceptible to being enticed away should a new service come along that is getting some buzz.

Andrew [Miller]: Since you could already pop out the compose window with the old interface and thus still have access to your inbox and any existing conversations, why do you consider the new, undersized, poorly located, compose window that requires more clicks to do anything to be an improvement? Personally, I find having the inbox visible while composing to be a distraction. Under the old compose, it was available for those who wanted it and more traditionally not visible for those who didn’t want it. Now we all have to deal with it.

Christie

Interaction Design: What We Know and What We Need to Know

(By Steve Whittaker, July + August 2013, DOI: 10.1145/2486227.2486236)

I can’t say how refreshing it was to see an explicit call for more theory in the HCI field. Personally, I think this is something that has been long needed. Too many HCI papers (particularly those submitted to and accepted at CHI!) have been “look-what-we-have-done” papers describing “cool” gadgets that have been “evaluated” (i.e., used for a few days) by a bunch of friends. They have embarrassingly often been totally theory-free, and instead built on a hunch or an idea. These hunches and ideas may indeed lead to major breakthroughs, but more often they only result in this never-to-be-repeated study of some friends. Only when we systematically explore what it was in the design that appealed to people, and derive theoretical propositions from our work, can new design be properly evaluated and lead to an increased understanding of how things and people work and interact.

So, a big YES to more and better theory in (HCI) design research!

Dick Stenmark

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@Monica Granfield (2014 01 13)

In response to:Blog: The UX ownership war is over ... and we have lost!

It’s true some companies are creating VP Design positions and great way to build awareness. However, what I have mostly seen of this is that these VP’s are still very much undervalued and underweighted. They still do not carry the traction we need. It is a step in the right direction though! What I see otherwise are companies that want design but yes, all too often it is near impossible to get out from under the everyday production and to have time and the alignment to get into the planning and strategic meetings.
It is wonderful to see research and design gaining such momentum. It will be even better once the resources are there to occupy the opportunities and the opportunity for the resources to rise from within a exercise the strengths of design and research!