Why I Love UX (or How to Piss Off an Entire Department!)

Last Friday, I tweeted something which was badly worded, and managed to piss off much of our UX team (not to mention a few UX people far and wide):

Pissing off UX

Now I ask you, how could that post possibly offend anyone (note sarcasm)?

So, I would like to clarify what I was thinking when I posted that (and again ran into the problem that most of my thoughts do not fit into 140 characters).

First, I had been reading a number of posts and other articles by so-called UX experts, thought leaders, and others (all off whom shall go nameless, as I do not need anymore flames – well, actually I enjoy flames, but am full at the moment). Like many fanatics, they have (in my humble opinion) some fairly radical beliefs that are not well grounded in the real world. These are the “UX people” to whom I was referring in my post. Yes, my choice of words was bad.

Secondly, I have a great deal of respect for the UX process. I even have a lot of respect for most of the UX people I know (even the ones with whom I disagree). Frequently it is the UX department with whom I have an issue. I have the same issue with Marketing (the department) versus Marketing (the process), and with Architecture (the department) versus Architecture (the process).

The comparison with architecture is particularly relevant, as I have had many arguments over the years in software organizations as to whether “architect” is a role or a job title – should there be an “architecture group” separate from the development team. My belief is a resounding NO! I tend to believe that “architect” is a role which and individual with the appropriate skills and training assumes on a specific project. On another project, that same person may be a senior developer. My concern with architects in a group by them selves is that I have frequently seen these groups (a) become extremely elitist; and (b) become too far removed from the reality of implementation, leading to architectures which are elegant, beautiful, and difficult to impossible to build on-time and on-budget. Often, the 99% philosophically correct, current-best-practice architecture is not necessary, when the 80% solution can actually be implemented on-time and on-budget.

I find that UX groups is some organizations, and UX thought-leaders in the world at large, are falling victim to much the same challenges I described for architecture. Too much separation between UX and implementation creates certain challenges.  And, there is often little willingness to deviate from the “philosophically correct vision” in favour of practical reality.

And as a final thought, I definitely do not have all the answers in these areas – I just have some very definite questions about how we (in the global sense) do things.

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Leap Motion

This is too cool! And at the advertised price point, it would definitely be a game changer in NUI development. I do not agree that it replaces a mouse and keyboard, but I do not think in terms of “replacement”. It provides another mode of interaction, along with mouse, keyboard, touch and voice, all of which can augment one another to provide an optimal user experience.

I want one!

Welcome to The Continuum – Part Two

Earlier today, I began to explain The Continuum as an experiment in Social Brainstorming. But that is only half the story (actually, a third, but we will deal with that later).

Beyond this, The Continuum is meant as a demonstration of a Seamless User Experience.

The Continuum grew out of a very simple exercise in which I was brainstorming a new (for me) subject area. While reading about this topic, I was recording (short) thoughts on PostIt notes, and putting them randomly all over the whiteboards in my office. I was doing this in the hope that patterns would eventually emerge – patterns I would not otherwise see.

While I was doing this, someone came into my office, and over the course of our discussions, the question arose as to why I was not using some computer-based tool to do this (I am, after all, a nerd). The reality is, unfortunately, that no tools exist which would allow me to do this without the technology getting in the way. Any computer-based tool tends to make assumptions about how you work, or worse yet force a pattern of work on you. Or you spend more time playing with the tool than you do capturing ideas. This cognitive friction in software means that I tend to lose ideas while trying to capture them, or at least lose the flow of ideas.

It should all be as simple as scribbling on a PostIt note, and slapping it on a whiteboard.

But it isn’t.

We now live in a world dominated by mobile devices. That said, there are still a few (hundred million) PCs in use. Even more, there are now many large format displays offering rich multi-touch experiences, as well as other modes of interaction including gestures and voice recognition.

The question then arises “What constitutes a great user experience in this new world of multi-modal interactions?” This is often described in terms of a Natural User Interface (NUI), which is unfortunately defined somewhat circularly as an interface which feels natural (ok, not quite that obviously, but nearly).

While this is a question I have been pondering for some time, I do not have an answer, or at very least not the answer (if I did, I would be a lot richer and more famous than I am!)

One aspect of the new user experience that is key to The Continuum experiment is that the user experience should be seamless across all (or at least most) devices. Note that this does not mean that all devices should deliver all of the functionality of the solution. What it does mean is that the solution should exist on all devices, presenting those aspects of the functionality which is appropriate to the device format. Let’s call this Device Appropriateness.

In addition, the user interface should be as transparent as possible. As much as possible, the user should interact directly with content, rather than interacting with content through some artificial UI constructs. Buttons, menus, icons – these are all artificial UI constructs. In a perfect world the UI is completely disappears.

Device Appropriateness.

Cognitive Transparency.

This is The Continuum.