Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Getting the organizational relationships right

The CHI 2005 website now reveals several details about the conference program, including information about the opening plenary. According the the website, Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon University will be opening the conference with a presentation entitled, "Confessions of a Technologist who has worked with Psychologists, Artists, Designers, and Other Creatures who are Strange to Me." And among the points Randy will be emphasizing is that "neither side can be there 'in service of' the other."

Recently, someone I know expressed concern about a new group in his company -- one that is being labeled as a group that provides design services. In this person's view, the group is going to have problems if it is positioned within the company as a service group.

Don Norman spoke of this when I interviewed him on stage at CHI '99 (for the full interview, see Organizational Limits to HCI: A Conversation with Don Norman and Janice Rohn from the May+June 2000 issue of interactions magazine): "An extreme oversimplification that a friend of mine made is that there are two kinds of people in organizations -- there are peers, and there are resources. Resources are like usability consultants -- we go out, and we hire them. We’ll hire a consultant, or we’ll have a little section that does usability and think of it as a service organization. We call upon them when we need them to do their thing, and then we go off and do the important stuff. That’s very different than peers, where a peer is somebody I talk to and discuss my problems with, and who helps to decide upon the course of action. As you get higher and higher in the organization, this becomes more of an issue. The executive staff talks to the executive staff, and they have beneath them all this organization, which are their resources that they deploy. But the big decisions are being made among peers. And it’s really important, to advance in the world, to be thought of as peers."

A design manager in one of my client companies would often say that product management tended to treat user experience personnel solely as "pairs of hands" rather than as "heads." Product concepts would be developed and sometimes pretty thoroughly fleshed out by product management before they would involve the user experience personnel (i.e., interaction designers, graphic designers, user experience researchers, etc.) in the company. Hence, user experience personnel, who believed they needed to be involved in product conceptualization, were often unhappy with the tasks they were limited to, and felt undervalued and not understood. Meanwhile, product management, who just wanted the user experience people to do what they told them to do and when they told them to do it, felt user experience personnel were the source of too much complaining and resistance. This was an unhealthy relationship that needed to be fixed.

What relationships do user experience personnel have with others in your company?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Serving on a jury / Collaborating on a judgment

Over "the holidays" (late December and into January), I found myself serving on a jury in a court of law here in the United States. Instead of arranging and taking a last-minute trip to Europe to celebrate the new year (as I was thinking of doing and was being encouraged to do), I sat in a jury box watching and listening as opposing sides in a tricky civil case fought to win me over.

I had served as a jury alternate a few years ago, present at the full trial but then not permitted to participate in jury deliberations at the trial's conclusion. On another occasion, I was selected as a jury member, only to watch things end immediately following the prosecution's presentation of opening arguments when the case was settled out of court.

Few people I have asked have ever wanted to serve on this kind of jury, since most have argued that they have better and more profitable things to do. And I've always been troubled by the idea that justice is well-served by placing a critical decision in the hands of 10-12 citizens, most of whom do not want to be involved. (My knowledge of the research of Elizabeth Loftus only strengthened this concern.)

But I've always wanted to participate in a jury's deliberations, to experience directly what that can be like.

So, I got my chance.

Success in the business of "user experience" requires working together -- bringing multiple perspectives to bear on a problem -- collaborating on a judgment. And rarely do participants in this process think it is done particularly well. There are excellent methodologies for doing this well, most of which rely on a good facilitator. But few know of or employ them.

So, just how well might a somewhat randomly selected group of jurors work together, locked in a room, assembled around a table to debate the issues of this tricky case, and guided by a foreman selected from among them?

I was impressed.

Did things go as smoothly as they could have? Not exactly. Jurors often talked over each other, got frustrated and upset, insisted that only their perspective could be right, etc.

Did jurors consider more than the evidence presented in court, contrary to the instructions of the judge? Yes.

Were jurors swayed by an inaccurate understanding of the way memory and remembering works? Of course (see the work of Elizabeth Loftus referenced earlier).

Did irrelevant factors (e.g., a desire to not have to come back the next day) sometimes influence how jurors voted? Yes.

Nevertheless, I was impressed -- greatly. All jurors took their responsibility very seriously. All jurors cared about reaching a just judgment. All jurors made significant contributions to the deliberations. All jurors ultimately seemed to give consideration to the input of the others. And almost all jurors contributed to the facilitation of the process. In the end, all jurors seemed to think very highly of all of their colleagues and that our final judgment was as just as it could be.

Do I think there is a better way to run a collaborative session? Yes.

But on the basis of this experience, I'd be happy to serve on a jury again someday, though preferably not instead of ushering in a new year in Paris.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

DUX 2005 -- specifically where & when (& who)

In an earlier posting, I announced that the next Designing for User Experiences conference -- DUX 2005 -- would be held in San Francisco (as was DUX 2003) and much later in the year than DUX 2003 (which was held in June).

Indeed, DUX 2005 will be held in San Francisco at Fort Mason Center, a unique cultural and educational center located on San Francisco Bay, from Thursday through Saturday, 3-5 November 2005. Mark your calendars now.

As was DUX 2003, DUX 2005 is being co-developed by three professional associations: ACM SIGCHI, AIGA Experience Design, and ACM SIGGRAPH. The DUX 2005 conference chairs: yours truly (i.e., Richard Anderson), John Zapolski, and Brian Blau (contact all three of us via conference@dux2005.org). The DUX 2005 program chairs: Nancy Frishberg, Rakhi Rajani, and Clark Dodsworth.

More info about DUX 2005 will become available during the upcoming weeks. I'll announce the availability of the website and CFP via this blog.