[SPAM] Who does design engineering (Was: Thoughts on Alan Cooper's Keynote)

15 Feb 2008 - 2:34pm
626 reads
Charlie Kreitzberg
2008

Hi Sam:

I said:

"At the end of the day, though, the user model is the one that customers
see. And in my experience, every compromise to its integrity for
technical ease comes back to haunt you."

You asked:

"This statement would imply that the user model (or manifest model)
should always take precedence. Is that really what you would advocate?"

Actually I would. Now let me temporize a bit.

Of course there are times when compromise is essential. You cannot afford
certain technical solutions, a solution that is great for the user may be
unstable or impossible to maintain. So of course you have to compromise and
sometimes technical issues must take precedence.

But it is not a good practice if your goal is to create the most effective
tool for the user. As a designer I will always advocate for the user's
interests. Of course my loyalty also has to be to the business that is
paying me but, in general, my best advice to them is to put the user first.

Now, I am writing this in a few sentences when there is clearly a lot more
to be said than I have time or energy for. It is hard to see how "moderate
usability" or "so-so design" is a winner in most situations (though it is
the norm). If your goal is to attract discretionary users, empower them to
act effectively and efficiently, how can you succeed if you make decisions
that bring the quality of the design down or introduce usability hurdles?

I realize that I am opening myself up to criticism by making blanket
statements but this one is so important I'm willing to take the heat.

However, let me clarify that IMO, during the lifecycle of a product,
different elements are owned by different people. It is not my role to tell
the developer whether to use Java or .Net. Nor is it my role to tell the
business side what their product should be called (though I may weigh in on
it). They own those decisions.

The problem comes when a decision made by a technical or business person
adversely affects the user experience. And in that case I do feel that the
manifest or user model should take precedence. If not, the product will
suffer and, most likely, the business that is investing in the product will
suffer as well.

When you take this out of the philosophical realm and focus on the issues
that arise in real business situations, decisions get made for such purposes
as:

"I don't know how to do that"
"It's too much work"
"I won't get any benefit in my performance review for this."
"My boss told me to do it that way"

These are not noble positions. They are based on convenience, are often
self-serving -- sometimes even petty. They wreak havoc with good design and
the user experience.

When I start a new project with a cross-functional team of technical,
business and Ux participant, I always start by:

1. Defining our mission
2. Agreeing who owns which decisions
3. Agreeing how we will approach decision-making and how we will break
deadlocks in decision-making

That helps a lot.

Best,

Charlie

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