Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bridging communities via interactions

The title of this blog entry is intended to have a double meaning. First, it references how interactions are essential to bridging communities -- something essential for "user experience" to play the role it should be playing in business. Second, it references how interactions magazine will increasingly reflect and attempt to facilitate this process.

Jon Kolko and I -- Co-Editors-in-Chief of interactions magazine -- have talked about the latter in the magazine, particularly in the introduction to our second issue. We elaborated on this and described other aspects of our goals and vision during a session we put together about the magazine for CHI 2008 in Florence. Here are the slides we used during that session:

interactions magazine has been around for awhile -- since January 1994 to be exact. During the CHI conference session, Timelines editor Jonathan Grudin and Advisory Board member Shelley Evanson described what it took to get ACM to begin publication.

We also "performed" the magazine to give attendees a rich sense of what the magazine is now about and of who its regular contributors are. (Thanks to Allison Druin, Fred Sampson, Eli Blevis, Jonathan Grudin, and Elizabeth Churchill who, along with Jon and myself, contributed readings during this part of the session.)

Additionally, Jon facilitated an important discussion between Elizabeth and special guest Mark Vanderbeeken about the concept of open access to intellectual content and its relevance to interactions magazine. (Sorry that Mark's head is largely obscured by Elizabeth's in the nearby photo.) One might argue that open -- i.e., free -- online access to interactions magazine content would in and of itself help to bridge the communities for which interactions magazine is of relevance. However... (Portions of and extensions to the CHI 2008 discussion will appear in Elizabeth's column and in "interactions cafe" in the September+October issue; both of those articles will be made available via the interactions website to all, facilitating everyone's opportunity to respond and share his or her perspective.)

Note that you can hear me talk a bit about interactions magazine via a podcast created during the Mx 2008 conference for Boxes and Arrows. See "Leading Designers to New Frontiers: Podcasts from MX San Francisco."

Black and white photo above by Eli Blevis.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Soft skills

Early last month, I spent a long weekend in a facilitation skills class. I've taken facilitation classes before, I do and have done a lot of facilitation in my work, and I'm considered to be very good at it. However, I was delighted to have the opportunity to reexamine some of the basics, work on some of the things that can be rather challenging, and receive (and give) feedback from (and to) others doing the same.

Facilitation skills are among those so-called "soft skills" that many argue are critical to the success of experience management and non-management personnel who more often than not find themselves working in "hostile territory."

As Lisa Anderson, Director of User Experience at Autodesk, argued during her appearance as a guest speaker in my recent User Experience Managers and Executives Speak course: "We're the glue that binds -- that brings different people and thinking together." Hence, "the soft skills, too often neglected by user experience managers, are critical. Develop these in yourself and your team."

Jim Nieters, Director of User Experience at Yahoo! and another of my guest speakers, has stressed that user experience practitioners need strong teamwork, communication, and advocacy skills just to get product teams to want to work with them. And another guest speaker, Klaus Kaasgaard, Yahoo!'s VP of Customer Insights, addressed this from the perspective of the researchers whose work he oversees:
"It is all about getting people on your side. Researchers won't get an SVP of business to act just by presenting their insights. One needs to build momentum to get people behind you in order to convince them, which is a long process. You have to wear 2 hats -- your scientist hat and your strategy and business hat, which is like becoming a different person. This is difficult for all of us to learn."
During presentations at HCIEd08 and Mx 2008, I included the need for experience management and non-management personnel to develop soft skills among several of the key challenges that need to be better addressed (see "Realities, dilemmas, framings, ..."). And since then, it has been great to see soft skills given center stage at an IxDA-SF presentation entitled, "Herding Cats and Taming Lions: Using Facilitation Skills to Create Better Design," and at a Slideshare event entitled, "An Evening of Presentation Zen."

Look for and take advantage of opportunities to further develop your "soft skills." (And don't overlook your local improv classes.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Roles and Relationships

In two of my most recent three blog entries, I argued that too much of the work done by user experience professionals ends up not being beneficial.

A good example of this was described last evening by TiVo's Margret Schmidt (VP of User Experience Design and Research, and pictured nearby) and Elissa Lee (Sr. Director of Research) during a presentation entitled, "Bringing the Spirit of the DVR to the Web: TiVo Launches a New"

The abstract of that presentation:
"TiVo is often noted for its friendly TV experience. We recently launched a new version of designed to bring that same simplicity and ease-of-use to our web presence. It took a close partnership between User Experience and Marketing, the right balance of internal and external design leadership, and a strong internal research team dedicated to continuous feedback in order to make the design a success. We'll discuss how we structured the project, the research techniques we used, and what we learned along the way."
The third sentence of that abstract -- italics added by me -- stands in sharp contrast to what happened during a redesign of a year earlier -- a redesign that, even though built, was never launched. The slide to the left outlines some of the key reasons for that failure. In short, roles and relationships were all messed up, and TiVo executives, helped by results of post-design usability testing conducted by the internal research team, recognized that a launch of the redesigned site would be highly inadvisable.

Frustrated by this and related experiences, Margret went to Marketing and asked what she could do so that this kind of thing would not happen again. To her delight (and probable surprise), she was asked to lead the next attempt. More of what was new about the next attempt is outlined in the slide to the right. The timelines were still unrealistic, resulting in long hours locked away in a "war room" to get things done -- see those same two recent blog entries of mine about how user experience professionals are too often overwhelmed with work. And the nature of the involvement of and relationship with the external agency was still not ideal -- a problem so many companies experience. But this time, everyone bought into the vision and the approach, and the redesign was not a waste of time and effort.

One can argue that the failure of last year was necessary to enable the success of this year. Indeed, failures of such magnitude often create golden opportunities to make needed adjustments to roles and responsibilities (and process and ...). However, though often hard if not impossible (see, for example, "'There is only so much air in the room'"), do whatever you can to get the roles and relationships right from the start.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Offloading work to others

In a recent blog entry, I claimed that many experience management and non-management personnel are overwhelmed with work, too much of which is often not that beneficial to a company, because of, among other reasons, the inadequate involvement of user experience personnel in determining what that work should be.

Another reason was described by Jeremy Ashley, VP Applications User Experience at Oracle, when he appeared as a guest speaker during my "User Experience Managers and Executives Speak" course earlier this year:
"Designers are expected to do too much -- to be project managers, liaise with PMs, liaise with marketing, liaise with development, liaise with executives, write technical specifications, and more, and while doing all these other things, they are expected to design the product. This is an impossible task. Designers are almost set up to fail at the start, because expectations are unrealistic."
According to Jeremy, at one time, Oracle designers were able to design only 20% of the time. So, among other things, he offloaded a lot of those non-design tasks onto other personnel. For example, he hired and now has a staff of user experience program managers who have taken over responsibility for lots of the liaising with others in the company.

Responsibilities of this role, outlined by Oracle's E. Killian Evers in the November 2007 AIS SIGHCI Newsletter, have included integrating, and continually improving the integration of, human-centered design into Oracle's system development lifecycle, and figuring out the most advisable projects to which Oracle's user experience resources should be assigned. Furthermore...
"Program managers are tasked to think beyond the usability organization to include partners in other parts of the larger organization. Effective partners can be found in program management, product management, strategy, development, quality assurance, technology writers, as well as in the sales and support divisions within the company. Program managers' responsibilities include leveraging resources from any of these organizations as needed to assist on projects."
Other companies have created related roles. For example, while at Microsoft, Kumi Akiyoshi served as a UX liaison responsible for building relationships with marketing, advertising, and branding.

Years ago, E-Lab assigned responsibilties for doing the work necessary to effectively communicate experience research findings to specially trained visual communicators, rather than being left (solely) to the researchers. Similarly, interaction designers at Cooper partner with design communicators who "lead teams in communicating research, requirements, and design solutions the right way to the right audience at the right time."

Some companies have created roles to facilitate the development of user experience methodology and/or a corporate culture that embraces design and design thinking. For example, Microsoft has a Design and Usability Training Manager (Surya Vanka), P&G a VP of Design Innovation & Strategy (Claudia Kotchka, whom I've referenced in three past blog entries), and SAP a Sr. Director of User Experience, Methods (Carola Thompson, former student of mine and another guest speaker at my "User Experience Managers and Executives Speak" course earlier this year -- see photo nearby).

Should you consider offloading some of the work of your user experience personnel to others, some of whom would occupy new user experience roles?