Thursday, August 11, 2005

On concept design, ethnography, MRDs, and product vision

At a BayCHI Usability Engineering BOF meeting last month, Suzanne Pellican, a User Experience Lead at Intuit, described the process via which the new and very successful Quicken Rental Property Manager was conceived, designed, and developed. According to Suzanne, one of the reasons for the success of this product was that she was able to deviate from common product development process and design the product concept -- iteratively involving potential users -- prior to the creation of a Market Requirements Document (MRD).

In many companies, MRDs are generated before user experience professionals have an opportunity to get involved. Many product development processes tend to imply, if not dictate, that design doesn't begin until after identification of market requirements.

At Yahoo!, a product development process that I had a hand in creating had a "Design" phase preceded by a phase that ended with development of an MRD. Troubled by this labeling, I put alot of work into developing diagrams showing how design and user experience personnel should be involved at different points which led to the development of the MRD. I also promoted development of means to help product managers and other personnel follow such a process.

Doing iterative concept design prior to generating an MRD was not the only reason for Suzanne's success. One of the other key reasons: she and others had done a great deal of ethnographic research which gave rise to the product idea and which provided crucial design guidance.

Because of the success of Quicken Rental Property Manager -- the first new product released by the Quicken team for many years, Suzanne's title was extended. She is no longer just a User Experience Lead; she is now also called a Product Visionary.

Are user experience practitioners playing major roles in envisioning new, innovative products in your business?