Thursday, December 18, 2008

What makes a "User Experience expert"?

If you're like me, you've been hearing a lot about this amazing thing called User Experience. It's supposed to turn your normal, old, web 1.0 piece-of-garbage application into a shining beacon of hope in a world beleaguered by bad interfaces. If you're like me, you've been watching the explosion of User Experience from somewhere between the forefront and the sidelines, enjoying the arrival of the requisite acronyms (UX, XD, EX, UXD, etc.), and trying to figure out exactly where and what the forefront even is. If you're like me, you've been a little skeptical of this vague and magical term for a while now, and if you're anything at all like me, you've been wanting someone to clear things up.

User Experience: Past and Present

Most people like to talk about User Experience in reference to Apple. Sometime after the advent of the iPod, the collective consciousness woke up and realized that things like form-factor and ease-of-use really matter and can really help sell products, or so the story goes. Never mind that companies like Kodak have been preaching this for years; none of us really got it until Apple showed up. Then Adobe started preaching the message, using the term to differentiate every product if offers, and the rest of us followed suit: User Experience became a big differentiator for our business. Everyone can learn a technology, the sales-pitch goes, but not everyone can solve your users' real problem.

And to an extent I think we were all right on. A lot of the applications we used over the last 10 years were a mess, and looking back we're all amazed at what we put up with. User Experience certainly does matter, and yes, it is probably the primary reason you all own iPods and very few of you own an iRiver Jukebox.

But as with any successful, new, and vaguely-defined industry, the User Experience field has brought with it a lot of confusion, and created a lot of confused people. Confused clients, who know they need User Experience expertise but are unsure of how to get it, and a confused work-force, who has started labeling themselves as User Experience experts without really understanding it. This group is very well-intentioned, and either doesn't know the difference between what they do and real User Experience work or are just as eager to learn as anyone else. Yet they know that talking about User Experience sells projects and so continue to talk it up."    (Continued via InsideRIA, RJ Owen)    [Usability Resources]

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