Monday, February 26, 2007

Weaving Usability and Cultures: User Experience Group Development and Integration

Integrating user centered design practices into organizations ...

"According to Peter Merholz, founder of the information architecture and usability team Adaptive Path, decentralized user-centered design (UCD) departments (brought about through poor organizational structure) are one of the main hurdles in front of good design (2004). With Product Managers being the only coordinating bridge between product groups, “design by committee” tends to be the only way for large UCD decisions to be made, and this tends not to improve the user experience (UX) but rather stifle it. With research done at the User Interface Engineering group, it appears as though the larger the organization’s user-centered design practice, the poorer the usability of its associated web-based user interface (Merholz 2004). This would appear to be a misleading statistic, however Merholz continues to explain how this happens by reasoning that the larger the UCD budget, the more likely the company is to break off the user experience team into a different group rather than work harder at UCD integration. By forcing the user experience group to be the “interface cop” before anything gets released, instead of being fully integrated within the product’s engineering lifecycle, Merholz states that it forces projects to go over budget and beyond the allotted time, and causes the company to ultimately lose money (2004).

User-centered design methodologies are not to be tacked on at the end of a product’s development lifecycle, but rather fully integrated within its development at every stage. Deborah Mayhew describes the usability engineering lifecycle in her book of the same name, and states “usability engineering provides structured methods for optimizing interface design during product development.” (Mayhew 1999). The trouble with pushing all projects through the user experience team right before they are shipped is that without UX help through all stages of development, there may be massive usability holes that are simply too large to be bandaged up. There comes a point when usability errors in a given interface cannot be fixed at the visual design level and may need a fully reengineered information architecture. These types of errors will force a product to miss development deadlines, which may cost the company millions of dollars in lost revenue (Garrett 2002).

When a company wants to make a certain segment of the organization better, usually they “throw more money at it” and hire more employees. The problem with doing this for a UX team is that people with overlapping skills and ideas usually end up hindering user-centered design rather than helping. Conflicting design decisions will soon turn into a design by committee situation that won’t help the consumer nor expose individual expertise (Brown 2004). User experience groups need to be flexible, agile, and scalable, and should only expand if the projects they work on are sufficiently large. The following is an overview of skills and disciplines needed for a successful user experience group:"    (Continued via    [Usability Resources]

UX Group - Usability, User Interface Design

UX Group


Anonymous Greg Scowen said...

I had an experience that is well described by this article while contracting to a large tertiary institute recently.

As more and more people were added to the UX team, and as management of that team failed to fulfill their role, the release date of the product was extended month by month. Before too long design decisions were being made (or not being made) via council meetings where 15 people got together in a room and had off-topic discussions that led nowhere.

Ironically enough when my contract came to an end (and their budget didn't allow renewal) they were not much better off than when they started. Although I had introduced a lot of very helpful initiatives, these went through cycles of bureaucracy that never came to a close. I will be watching their product release with interest.

9:25 PM  

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