Posted on: 10 April 2014
User Experience is a Team Sport
At Akendi we offer training courses that lead to certifications in UX research and UX design. Of the hundreds of people that have taken our courses, I have personally encountered a significant number who are the only UX resource in their company or their department. They come to use to learn new domains (like mobile UX design) or to brush up on skills that they already possess. We thoroughly enjoy meeting the people that come to Akendi for training and of course all are welcome. There is one thing that bothers me however.
I feel that UX is a team sport, a group endeavour and when I think about all the hands that contribute to the wonderful work (if I do say so myself) that the Akendi team consistently delivers to our clients, I can’t help but feel sorry for those individuals. I believe that the problem lies not with them, but with the organizations that they work for. That problem, as I see it, is that these organizations have an incomplete understanding of what UX is. UX is a not one thing. Before I tell you what it is, I’ll tell you what UX isn’t.
What User Experience is not
It isn’t a thing that you can pick up, and turn over in your hands. An information architecture diagram is an actual artifact. Wireframes are a thing, as are visual designs and usability test reports. UX, or a user experience is what happens when all of these things come together. All of these “things” take skills and knowledge to produce, and while it is not essential to produce all of these things in order to create an optimal user experience for a product, it is often difficult to tell which you will need to produce before you embark on the journey of improvement. The consequence of not knowing is that should the need arise, the individual responsible for the UX has to have the skill, and the time, to produce any or all of the aforementioned artifacts.
Components of User Experience
I will save the specialist vs. generalist debate for another blog post, but even the best generalist cannot be all things at once. Strategy, user research, customer research, information architecture, interaction design, visual design, usability testing… I could go on., but I think you get the picture, are all components of “UX”. To do it right takes a lot of hands, a lot of collaboration and a lot of cooperation. When I hear the lone voice of the single UX resource crying in the wilderness of product design it is almost heartbreaking because it causes me to wonder how they make headway, let alone succeed. Think of it this way, a general practitioner and a cardio-thoracic surgeon are both medical doctors.
Both of them have gone to medical school and can probably diagnose heart trouble, but which one would you want to fix it. I’m guessing you’d choose the cardio-thoracic surgeon… and you’d be right to do so. My point is that even the most brilliant surgeons don’t saunter into the operating room by themselves. If they did, the responsibility for the anesthesia, the suturing and all those other things I hear about on Grey’s Anatomy would fall to one person. That surgeon probably has more than a passing knowledge of all those skills, but wouldn’t have the ability to do them all at once.
Thankfully all is not lost in situations like this. If that one resource has a good understanding of how to implement a good UX strategy they can choose methodologies that work well with their situation. For example the emergence of Lean UX as methodology has made it possible for one UX resource to have a great deal of impact. But Lean isn’t right for all types of organizations so if you’re expecting a large multi national enterprise to benefit from a single UX resource trying to apply Lean UX principles, I would not recommend that you hold your breath while waiting for success.
The methodology must match the environment and in many cases it is time for companies and organizations to step up. If the user experience of your product is important then it is incumbent on those in charge to invest in UX in a real and meaningful way. It is unheard of to have an IT, or a QA or a Development team with only one resource. If the experience that your customers and users have with your product is important then that importance should be reflected in the team that is assembled to strategize, research, design, test and develop the part of your product that your users and customers interact with.