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.