Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ideal UX Team Makeup: Specialists, Generalists, or Compartmentalists

What a UX team should look like ...

"Dr. Steven Margles is a world-renown hand and wrist orthopedic surgeon at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA. People come from all over the world to see him. Manufacturers of surgical products seek out his advice. He's one of the best hands and wrists guys in the world. Dr. Margles is a specialist.

Eleven miles to the west is Emerson Hospital, in Concord, MA. There we find an orthopedic staff of 6 doctors, all of whom are very capable. But none of them specialize in hands or wrists. They work on whatever body parts you bring to them. They are just as good as Dr. Margles and the other specialists at the Lahey Clinic, they just have different experience.

Five hours by car to the Northeast is Penobscot Valley Hospital, in Lincoln, ME. Serving this 24-bed hospital are two surgeons, neither of whom specialize in orthopedics or any other surgical specialty. Of course, surgery itself is a specialty, making it different from general practice or obstetrics. While these two surgeons won't likely deliver a baby today, they could be doing a hip operation or a heart bypass.

Each of these hospitals have decided to hire specialists. However, the nature of those specialists change because of the needs of the community the hospital serves. How does the hospital staff know what kind of doctor to hire?

Building A Team: Do You Look For A Specialist?

When building a User Experience team, the same question comes up: How do you know what kind of UX professional to hire?

Specialists are professionals who have the time, experience, and projects to allow them to go deep into a discipline, such as information architecture or visual design.

Because they can concentrate on the one discipline, they become very knowledgeable and experienced at solving the problems that crop up. Having a specialist on board is often very valuable, since they'll know how to tackle the many subtleties that can make or break a project.

The Value of the Generalist

Generalists are professionals whose time and projects demand they learn a broad variety of disciplines. It's not unusual to find a generalist who daily switches between information architecture, usability research, interaction design, visual design, and even coding.

Because they are constantly switching, they don't have the advantage specialists have at gaining knowledge in a specific discipline. However, they do have the advantage that they often better understand the intersection between these disciplines. They are extremely valuable because they can see issues and details from multiple perspectives, bringing a broad view to the project.

The Trap of Compartmentalists

Now, don't make the mistake a lot of folks make and confuse specialization with compartmentalization. While the former is about having the majority of your experience in a single discipline, the latter is about only having experience in that discipline. While Dr. Margles prefers to work on hands and wrists, he could, if the need arose work on other areas. In fact, if he was the only doctor on the island, you'd want him to be the one to deliver the baby. And his medical training and experience would ensure he does it successfully."    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

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