Helmut: When did you first recognize that user experience is important to you?
Dan: Reflecting back, I believe the first time was when I was a teenager. However, I don't believe I would have identified it as user experience at the time. I was continually designing and building things when my needs as consumer were not met. Then at my first semester in the engineering school at Tufts University, I enrolled in the required "Introduction to Design" class. It was taught by Prof. Percy Holmes Hill (a Buckminister Fuller protégé). Percy was an expert in classic Human Factors Engineering and a brilliant inventor. Once he laid out the intellectual framework, I was hooked for life on the mission of designing highly usable people centered products. Prof. John Kreifeldt, another pioneer in HFES was also a big influence.
What was the first product you designed or you contributed to its design?
The first real product I contributed to was the design of the Reach Toothbrush. At this time I was in graduate school and working for Prof. Hill as part of his consulting company Applied Ergonomics. The Reach Toothbrush was the first ergonomically designed toothbrush. Before that all toothbrushes looked like a straight stick with some flat cut bristles on one end. The Reach proved significantly better in clinical trials. It was a big product success for Johnson & Johnson and also an IDSA award winner. It has remained in the market for 30 years which is a testament to it setting the design reference standard for the whole class of products.
What are some lessons you have learned in your early UX days?
I learned that the "doctrine of infallibility" only applies to the Pope and not to UX designers. Many of my early designs died in the usability lab. However, I must say that I was very fortunate in this case because both Xerox and Kodak (my first two employers) where among the first companies to have usability labs. I believe this strongly influenced me to develop a balanced approach between the creative and analytical aspects of HCI.
What are some current UX related challenges and how do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge facing many of the client companies I work with today is that they don't have a User Experience Strategy as part of their business plan.
Dan, what do you mean by user experience strategy?
A user experience strategy should answer the question: Which product needs a UI, for whom and for what purpose. A user Interface is part of a delivery channel. A user experience strategy contributes therefore to the value chain and the overall business model of a company. Discussing a user experience strategy can result in new services. This just happened recently with one of my clients. There is another aspect that can be considered a dimension of UX strategy. If there is a decision to develop user interfaces, the UX strategy should influence the definition of an appropriate UX design process, the structure of the UX organization and how it is embedded into product definition and development activities.
Thanks for clarifying your understanding of a user experience strategy. Let’s go back to UX related challenges.
Because of a lack of a UX strategy, there is a gap between design investment and product delivery in the market. I work with a range of companies from startups to fortune 500. These companies span from medical to consumer/internet to enterprise software. Meeting the consumerization of IT user expectations is the biggest challenge for the technical/enterprise companies today.
So Dan, what exactly is the "consumerization of IT"?
The consumerization of IT is best defined as highly technical users (typical gen-X and gen-Y) demanding the same level of usability in systems administration and programming language tools as they grew up with on the internet or in the games they played. Their benchmark is AOL, World of Warcraft and Yahoo, not the Unix command line. This also applies to enterprise applications. Corporate users expect their in-house purchasing application to have the usability of an internet eCommerce site such as Amazon. This is a big design challenge because the use case is really different. Amazon wants you to stay on their site as long as possible and up sell you many items. The goal of a corporate procurement system is for employee to quickly choose the least expensive product and get back to their official job responsibilities.
What is your guess: How might the UX field evolve over the next five to ten years?
Helmut, if I could predict the future I would have been able to retire many years ago : )
Seriously, if I had to make a prediction I would say that as a formal profession we might actually disappear. Not in 5 to 10 years but possibly in 20. You can see the early signs now with MBA programs including design management courses and broad participation in UX courses from students in many disciplines. The Design Thinking movement is also pushing us in this generalist direction. Concurrently, the ownership of corporate user experience is moving to the Chief Product Owner (CPO) in many companies while the number of Chief Design Officer positions are declining. In the end this may be the most effective approach to delivering universal usability.
In the current UX world, there are many different UX specialists who do the work. Will these roles disappear?
Yes, the roles might disappear, but not the activities. Other professions, often generalists, will expand and take over specific UX activities. I’ll give you an example. I support one company with a research group. The research group is doing market research and user research. Both activities are now in one group and executed by the same people. As you know, many other companies today have market research groups, separated from a user research group. The only exception from the trend of being taking over by other professions is probably visual design. It requires very particular skills. This trend raises some interesting questions: If UX literacy becomes required within the deeply established professions such as Marketing, Product Management and Development where do we fit in once you step out of the academic HCI lab? If usability competency becomes ubiquitous what would be the role of an HCI specialist?
Wow. That's not the kind of answer I was expecting. You have ended by answering my last question with a more provocative question. One which could be the basis of my next blog! Thanks a lot, Dan.
My pleasure, Helmut.