Whitney Hess wrote what I consider a very good article to help people understand the term "user experience": 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design. I have seen others call it "brilliant" and other wonderful things. Great job, Whitney! The framing of what UXD is not is obviously one of the appealing aspects of the article.
I do have a few quibbles with her article:
Again, Whitney wrote a very good article. These are minor adjustments I would have made, and some people will think they make the article worse. Take them or leave them.
In the interest of full disclosure, I responded to Whitney's call for participation for her article. She did not include my stuff, which is fine. This blog posting is not sour grapes. It is really a "great job, Whitney" with a few points that might further the conversation (and hopefully will not derail the great conversation she has started).
And if people are interested, below is what I gave to Whitney on the topic. I think it overlaps with several of her misconceptions, so I can see why she did not use it: she divided her article up differently, she had more content than space, etc.
There are so many misconceptions that it is hard to pick the one or two to mention here.
I guess I would have to say the most significant misconception is that you can form a single "user experience design" team (usually made up of information architects, visual designers and user researchers) and expect that alone to make things better. That is only one of the first (and perhaps the easiest) step to actually creating better experiences for your customers / citizens / users.
Other important steps include:
* Getting user experience to be the focus much earlier than any "design" step in your organization. When the budgets are determined, when the projects are defined, when the requirements are determined: the people involved in those decisions need to be aware of UX considerations or else the design team will only be able to put a semi- workable user interface on a system that has UX flaws from the start.
* Establishing a collaborative culture where many parts of the organization are working together on the same UX goals. No one team can own the entire user experience, so the UX teams that are really making progress spend more time working with other groups (promoting the UX vision, explaining UX challenges, planning project interlocks) than drawing wireframes or designing novel interaction styles. Taking care of some of the details of the experience is still important, working closely with the front-end developers is still crucial, and so on, but without the collaborative culture, the core UX design team's work will not have a large impact on the total user experience.
* Building a really strong UX design team because it is really difficult to juggle many projects across the organization that all touch the user experience, keep up with an efficient Agile development team, keep tabs on the latest UX trends, and everything else the team is asked to do once the organization sees how valuable the team is. You need several senior people, with the right mix of skills and personalities, who are always in sync with the state of the company's UX, and who are also active in the UX community as a whole. A UX design team that feels overwhelmed with work tends to break into smaller pieces and do their work in silos, which will lead to a fractured experience. It takes a strong manager, too, of course.
There are other steps, and even these 3 have a lot more depth and subtleties into them. For example, how to do any of these steps is highly dependent on the politics of the organization: a Fortune 500 is totally different from a start-up which is totally different than a government agency.
So I guess in conclusion, the most important misconception I see is that you can form a "user experience design" team alone and make a difference. You need these other steps (and more) mapped out and executed on.
Back to her very good article (tired of me saying that I liked it?). One other piece that is missing is the "executive version" - something you can scribble on the executive washroom wall so that the top dogs in your organization can read it during one of the rare times when they are not distracted by other things. Here is my version of a recap:
This is too long to write on a stall wall - and I would never tell you to vandalize anyway. But I think some sort of simplification to her wonderful article ("stop brown nosing already!") adds value.