Monday, December 01, 2008

The UX Designer’s Place in the Ensemble: Directing the Vision

The role of the designer ...

"I’m sitting in a conference room with a coworker and two clients. It’s chaotic, hot, and a challenge just to walk around without tripping on the mess surrounding us. We are in the midst of designing and are buried in paper and sharpies and flipcharts. The walls around us are covered with consolidated data from requirements gathering and flipchart pages we’ve filled with our thought processes. Every few minutes, we need to retape some piece of paper that’s in danger of falling into a crumpled heap on the floor. Then, suddenly, I’m gripped with the feeling of déjà vu. It seems like I’m working on the same design I’ve worked on a thousand times before—and I’m getting bogged down in the details to boot! It’s at once disheartening and terrifying. But I’m the lead on this project, so I need to drive the team forward—which presents a challenge at this particular moment.

In that moment, I realized I had to step back and take a new perspective on both my role and the goal of our design.

Inspiration from an Unexpected Source

When I found myself trapped in déjà vu and needing a new perspective, I turned to theory I had learned in a directing class for inspiration—and ironically, direction. I realized I might gain insight on the lead role I was playing if I thought about how my role correlated to that of a theatrical director.

You may ask, What does directing have to do with creating a user interface design? Well, we know a director is responsible for the strategic vision of creative work. That’s a given. But, did you know he is also responsible for ensuring a successful outcome that both meets his vision and is in line with the producer’s desires and budget? To make that happen, a director works with the cast, crew, costume and set designers, and everyone else who contributes to a successful theatrical production to pull together a cohesive product, without losing site of his vision. It’s a complicated job. In this scenario, change director to UX lead, producer to business owner, and the rest to designers, developers, and technical writers. Is this starting to sound familiar? Though I’d found myself feeling lost, fortunately, I did find inspiration in the unlikely source of a directing class.

In my directing class, we had studied five different theorists—all with their own unique perspectives and ideas. While I absorbed all of this information in preparation for my own first directing experience—a scary story in itself, but one for another time—I found myself intrigued by how many of the concepts could translate to any creative process, not just theater.

Peter Brooks’s The Empty Space, in particular, stood out as an approach that could help define direction and purpose when doing any kind of creative work. His groundbreaking book describes the landscape of theater as he saw it in one moment in time. His categorization of the four types of productions he typically encountered—Deadly, Holy, Rough, and Immediate—slightly esoteric though it was—reinforced the need, first and foremost

* to understand the ultimate aim for the experience or design you are creating
* to continually go back to that goal if you start feeling like you are getting lost

Brooks also gives us a way to measure the success of our ultimate aim and think about a long-term strategy—if we take these things into consideration from the beginning. For me, these concepts were the lifeline I needed to pull myself out of the weeds and recenter my focus."    (Continued via UXmatters, Traci Lepore)    [Usability Resources]

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