Monday, December 18, 2006

Borrowing from the field of child development...

At last week's BayCHI meeting, an audience member asked speaker Dan Russell for advice on how to go about countering the great resistance she experiences in her workplace to doing any of the types of user research (e.g., field and usability studies) Dan had advocated in his presentation.

In a blog posting of a bit earlier in the week last week, Chiara Fox lamented the many "folks in the trenches" who are still fighting "a constant battle, where they are forced to defend their position as user experience experts" just as she and others did not long ago in a former place of work where they were "always putting out fires, being reactive instead of proactive, and constantly fighting against being treated as order takers" by others.

In a London pub three weeks ago, a London-based user experience research manager told me how so few people in his place of work and and in others' workplaces throughout the UK understand user experience and, hence, greatly limit what user experience personnel contribute to the companies.

These are recent examples of the kinds of situations I read or hear about on an ongoing basis. And they remind me of a comp.human-factors newsgroup posting of November 1995 entitled, "Why Don't They See the Need?" in which Deborah Wagner complained about the difficulty she was having finding a place to work "that truly believes in user-centered design methodologies." (I remember this posting, because I quoted it in an article several years ago.)

Have things not changed in eleven years?

At last week's BayCHI meeting, Dan Russell told the questioner that instead of struggling to convince people in her workplace to do user research, she should consider finding a place to work where they already value and do these kinds of things.

Indeed, there are now multiple companies that do value and do those kinds of things. But, there are more companies that don't, and many companies that do do so only somewhat and do not yet do the work in such a way that would be of greatest benefit.

Various models of aspects of corporate "user experience" maturity -- see "Changing the course or pace of a large ship" for a reference to one of the models proposed earlier this year -- describe stages of maturity that attempt to capture these differences between companies and sometimes even between different parts of the same company. And moving a company or a part of a company up such corporate maturity scales is something many need to attend to, even in Dan's place of work.

A User Research Lead who took our most recent Managing User Experience Groups course described one maturity stage worth targeting in the following clever way:
"My mental model is that the product teams think of me as 'that fun friend who drops in to occasional meetings, provides valuable input, and is often out-in-the field or other parts of the company advocating for our users.' … Isn’t there that stage in child development where the child realizes that an object still exists even when you can’t see it (object permanence). That’s the stage I think we need to get to with the product teams. And on the flip side, to flip the metaphor, we need to believe that mom and dad still love us even when we are out of the house!"