Thursday, December 30, 2004

the CHI 2005 Development Consortium

User experience (UX) practitioners encounter numerous obstacles to their professional development. Among those obstacles are a large and growing number of professional associations that compete for their attention, involvement, and money.

At the same time and, in part, because of this competition, many of these professional associations are struggling.

What is needed to improve the situation? Increased sharing of resources among UX-related professional associations? More conferences like DUX 2003 and DUX 2005, targeted more directly at the UX practitioner and the joint-product of multiple UX-related professional associations? Development of new, better-targeted professional associations and/or a redefinition of the focus of some of those which exist? Creation of new professional association memberships that are comprised of products and services from multiple associations? Development of a new organization -- think UXnet -- designed to enable increased collaboration and coordination among existing professional associations?

Just prior to CHI 2005 in April in Portland Oregon, I'll be convening a two-day consortium focused on developing answers to these and related questions. Among the expected participants are leaders of many of these professional associations.

The goals of the consortium are to:
  • develop a deeper understanding of the situation and barriers to improving it;
  • examine a mix of potential or partial solutions that have been or are being attempted, or are being considered;
  • examine a mix of (partial) solutions developed for similar problems in other domains;
  • generate new ideas for improving the situation;
  • establish relationships and a roadmap to facilitate problem solution.
If you think you might like to participate, make your way to the consortium's CFP as soon as possible, because submissions for the consortium are due January 3.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The need for good facilitation

A month or so ago, a contributor to a popular usability mailing list asked others for pointers to materials on facilitation. As I recall, all of the responses referenced materials on how to facilitate usability tests.

Given the nature of the mailing list, the focus of the responses on usability test facilitation was not surprising. However, facilitation of usability tests is only a small subset of the types of facilitation which are critical to improving the role "user experience" plays in business.

Too little attention is paid to other types of facilitation, and too few people are well-prepared to provide them.

Hence, collaboration gets condemned as "design by committee," as it was by a panelist at an event held earlier this month in the SF Bay Area, even though the event was partly about the importance of increasing collaboration.

Numerous collaborative methodologies and techniques exist that work wonders, but only when they are well-facilitated.

Focus on developing the capability of your organization to be effectively collaborative via attending to the critical role of good facilitation. Bring in people who understand and who can effectively facilitate the full range of collaborative methodologies your business should employ, and who can leave your organization better equipped to be effectively collaborative on its own.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A different take on ROI

ROI is abit of a controversial topic in the world of "user experience," with some people arguing -- as did a panelist at last week's BayDUX event focused on the future of digital product design -- how important it is to talk in terms of ROI to executives and senior management, and with others -- as did Jeff Herman of eBay in a short presentation at CHI 2004 -- explaining how to estimate ROI for user experience projects, but with others -- as has Dan Rosenberg, Oracle's VP of development for usability and interface design, in a recent issue of interactions magazine -- arguing that commonly recommended ROI analyses are of little value in the real world.

With collaboration being so important in the business of user experience, a different take on ROI is worthy of note.

Linda Dunkel, President & CEO of Interaction Associates, uses the letters ROI to mean Return On Involvement rather than Return on Investment. According to Linda, "involving key stakeholders in decisions produces significant benefits, both emotional and financial," and she references evidence of this:
"Dr. Victor Vroom of Yale University, an expert in the field of leadership and decision making, recently pointed us to some remarkable data that supports collaboration as a business necessity. In his book, Why Decisions Fail, Dr. Paul Nutt examined the implementation rates of nearly 400 management decisions — and found that over 50% of the decisions failed. The decisions were not implemented at all, were only partially implemented, or were adopted, but later overturned.

Nutt found that the most successful implementation tactic was asking for the participation of those who would be affected by the decision. That tactic had the lowest failure rate: 30%. But at 23% usage, it was the least used tactic!

John Kotter and James Heskett in their book, Corporate Culture and Performance, showed that firms which focused on stakeholders and developed involvement strategies increased revenues over an 11 year period by an average of 682%, versus low involvement cultures which turned in an average of only 166%. Net incomes improved by 756% vs. 1% in these same firms."
How much is "involvement" valued in your corporate culture? Are there people in your company who know how to achieve effective collaboration among the appropriate stakeholders?

  1. Dunkel, L. "Return on Involvement."
  2. Herman, J. A process for creating the business case for user experience projects. CHI 2004 Extended Abstracts, pp. 1413-1416.
  3. Knemeyer, D., with Allen, S., Day, N., Gabriel-Petit, P., Leftwich, J., Wroblewski, L., & Ramirez, F. The future of digital product design. BayDUX, December 12, 2004.
  4. Rosenberg, D. The myths of usability ROI. interactions, September-October 2004, pp. 22-29.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

"The glue" & Sara Little Turnbull

Last month, I had lunch with Sara Little Turnbull, Director of the Process of Change, Innovation, & Design Laboratory of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. Eighty-seven years of age, Sara has been a trusted advisor to corporate CEOs, national governments, and universities for decades, and she understood the importance to business of design to improve user experiences long before any of us.

I've had the great privilege of interviewing Sara on stage at two events: a BayCHI meeting at PARC during January of 2002, then again during the closing plenary of the first Designing for User Experiences conference during June of 2003 ( Later during 2003, I brought Sara into Yahoo! to speak to User Experience & Design personnel while I was working at Yahoo! as a consulting user experience research manager and a product development process advisor.

According to Sara, effective design emerges at the intersection of culture and commerce; hence, a deep understanding of how cultures solve problems can give businesses a competitive advantage. Hence, she has used her training in design and cultural anthropology, and her wonderful enthusiasm, to help her do what I have worked to do at Yahoo! and elsewhere: bring the worlds of design, business, and engineering much closer together.

Over lunch, my conversation with Sara was initially wide-ranging, including discussing Paul Saffo's claim that good management kills innovation (see my earlier posting on this) as well as what Bill Gates' mother would say many years ago whenever Sara asked her what the then young and unknown Bill was up to when the two good friends got together for coffee. But soon, the conversation became focused on glue.

I spoke with Sara about some of my efforts at integrating design and research and product management and marketing and ... -- at strategically increasing collaboration among multiple types of expertise and organizations -- and about the challenges of finding good opportunities to do that kind of work in a substantive way. Sara spoke of the challenges she has had in bringing multiple disciplines together both in businesses and at Stanford, and the cultural forces that tend to resist such collaboration, though the benefit is huge.

As put by Sara, I am a good example of "the glue" that most companies need, and I have the advantage of being very good at making it possible for people to express themselves effectively, as Sara has experienced in my conversations with her both on and off stage. But as also put by Sara, few companies recognize their need for that glue, and few companies understand that needed leadership involves making it possible for employees to express themselves in an effective way.

Does your company include people who effectively play the role of "glue"? What do you think of Sara's claim of the importance of such a role? Do you feel that your perspective and expertise gets heard and is involved in the best ways at the best times in your workplace?

For more on Sara, see:

  1. Lawrence, P. Stanford's Sara Little Turnbull on design. @issue, 7(1), 2001.
  2. Malone, E. DUX -- Five lessons learned. Boxes and Arrows, June 30, 2003.
  3. Vienne, V. The why of it all. Metropolis Magazine, November 2001.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

What is happening with UXnet?

I am a member of the Executive Council of the User Experience network (UXnet), an organization focused on furthering the User Experience (UX) field, in part by facilitating collaboration and cooperation among UX-related organizations and individuals. Earlier this year (in June), we "soft launched" UXnet to facilitate our networking with prominent UX-related organizations and individuals about UXnet while we worked on a roadmap for long-term UXnet governance and funding.

This morning, we disseminated an announcement about what we have been up to since the soft launch. Here is that announcement:
UXnet Update

The tremendously positive response since UXnet's soft launch in June has greatly strengthened our belief in UXnet's mission to help make connections between the people and organizations that represent User Experience disciplines. As you can tell from our early and incomplete list of both organizational and individual supporters (see, this concept of connection and collaboration is one that resonates for many.

We wanted to let you know that we have been busy moving UXnet forward. Since June, the Executive Council has been at work formulating a comprehensive, long-term strategy that will enable us to achieve our goals. Look for more about this sometime in January.

We have also been busy with our initiatives. Since June, UXnet's Local Ambassador initiative has rapidly gained momentum, with over 25 participants in 18 regions spanning nine countries and four continents. These Ambassadors have begun to provide user experience opportunities and resources in their respective localities. In fact, events in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, and Zurich have already been hosted in cooperation with UXnet.

The UX Events Calendar & Groups Directory initiative has been working with the Local Ambassadors to understand their needs as users and enablers of the directory and calendar. Additional research has included a review of existing calendar systems and the technology, standards, and policies behind them.

As for the Organization Collaboration initiative, UXnet will participate in and is encouraging the participation of numerous UX-related organizations in the Development Consortium being held just prior to CHI 2005 in April in Portland, Oregon (see This two-day consortium will assemble organization leaders and others to identify strategies for working together to better serve the needs of the UX professional and of the organizations.

As you can tell, things are going well. But we welcome your help! You can find out more by visiting our initiatives page ( or by emailing us at

Thanks to everyone for their continued support, encouragement, and contributions to moving UXnet ahead.

The UXnet Executive Council