Monday, April 23, 2007

Moving UX into a position of corporate influence: Whose advice really works?

I'll be leading an "interactive session" at CHI 2007 entitled, "Moving UX into a Position of Corporate Influence: Whose Advice Really Works?" Here is the abstract:
"Professionals working to move user experience (UX) into a position of corporate influence are impeded by conflicting recommendations, including those regarding the roles of documenting and evangelizing UX work, ownership of UX, organizational positioning, calculating return on investment, and conducting "ethnographic" research. In this interactive session, a group of senior UX management personnel who have moved UX into positions of rapidly increasing influence in their varied places of work debate their different perspectives and approaches to help resolve the conflicting recommendations and generate some new and improved guidance."
A four-page description of this session will be published and will become available in ACM's digital library. However, I've prepared a longer version of the description for you to download.

During recent weeks, I've posted blog entries that provide even more information about the focus of the session:
15 Feb 07: Documenting and evangelizing user experience work

24 Jan 07: Ownership of the user-customer experience

01 Feb 07: Does it matter where User Experience is positioned in your corporate structure?

13 Mar 07 Calculating return on investment

5 Apr 07 Conducting "ethnographic" research
And I recently activated the ability to comment on those postings to invite you to share your stories about your experiences. For example, the first comment to the last posting referenced above is from me and says:
"What has been your experience where you work? Has conducting 'ethnographic' research played a role in moving user experience into a position of corporate influence, or has it not played such a role? If it hasn't, could it? If it has, what role has it played?"
If you'd prefer, feel free to share information about your experiences just with me via email.

The experiences that will receive the greatest attention during the CHI conference session will be those of the following people:
  • Jeremy Ashley, Vice President of Applications User Experience, Oracle
  • Tobias Herrmann, Head of Team User Experience, mobilkom austria (represented by Manfred Tscheligi, Managing Director of USECON, Wien Austria)
  • Justin Miller, Senior Director of Product for Europe, eBay
  • Jim Nieters, Senior Manager User Experience Design, Cisco
  • Shauna Sampson Eves, Director of User Experience, Blue Shield of California
  • Secil Tabli Watson, Senior Vice President Internet Channel Strategy, Wells Fargo
(And I'll contribute a couple of my own stories as well.)

Watch this blog for additional information on the (topic of the) session, but if you are attending CHI 2007, I hope you'll join us Tuesday, 1 May, 14:30-16:00 in the San Jose Convention Center's Civic Auditorium.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ramblings on the experience of food -- its preparation, eating, & judging -- and technology

When Claudia and I went skiing earlier this year, we arrived at the Berkeley Ski Club lodge late in the afternoon to find the kitchen starting to fill with activity. "Join us for dinner," said Adrianne Parks almost immediately on behalf of a group of 8 which had made plans to jointly prepare and share the evening meal. And happily we did, joining in the food's preparation, followed by a wonderful, long meal complete with delightful conversation.

I love these kinds of experiences, as reflected in one of my first blog entries, though -- or perhaps "because" -- such experiences were rarely a part of my life until well into adulthood. My upbringing in the center of the U.S. (most often called "the midwest") meant that my participation in meal activity was for years largely limited to quietly eating tasteless food and drying dishes!

Now my experience of food includes shopping and talking food at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers Market nearly every Saturday, as I described in my reflections on the year 2006.

Indeed, we were there this morning. And when we were there last Saturday, we had the bonus experience of an appearance by Cat Cora in the Ferry Building's Book Passage to promote her new cookbook. I've often enjoyed watching Cat work her magic in competition with other chefs on the Food Network's Iron Chef America.

On Iron Chef America, after two competing chefs prepare 5 or 6 dishes -- each featuring and highlighting an ingredient kept secret until the competition begins, three judges taste the dishes and debate their quality, then rate each chef's output on taste (10 points), originality of the use of the secret ingredient (5), and plating (5).

Comparisons with analyses of user experience by people in the world of technology are interesting. For example, in Technology as Experience, McCarthy and Wright emphasize that user experience includes the emotional, intellectual, and sensual aspects of our interactions. All three of these aspects appear to be embedded in the Iron Chef America scales.

Another example: Mary Beth Raven claims that a world-class user experience has 4 parts: visual style, innovation, execution (defined as attention to detail, emphasis on delighting, and avoiding dissatisfaction), and usefulness. The first three clearly receive the attention of the Iron Chef America judges; I wonder whether the addition of a usefulness scale of some sort could make sense.

Cat, like the other competing chefs, cooks with 2 assistants on the show. Her unique punctuation on this process is the toast of ouzo they share at the end of the one hour permitted for cooking and plating. Perhaps the judges could also rate the teams on how well they worked together. Collaboration in the kitchen can be no less challenging than the workplace collaboration I've referenced in multiple blog entries.

Another type of "collaboration" featured on Iron Chef America is the judging, portions of which viewers get to watch. The interactions among the judges are often as entertaining as they are educational, since they, too, can be challenging, particularly when food columnist Jeffrey Steingarten is a judge.

Maybe Chef Anthony Bourdain will someday rate the judges like he recently rated some of the Iron Chefs and others who appear on the Food Network. Somehow, Cat Cora escaped Bourdain's attention in his no-holds-barred evaluations. I'd most look forward to reading his opinion of Jeffrey Steingarten!

Some analyses of user experience, such as David Sward's which is depicted in the nearby graphic (from the February 2007 Bringing the Voice of Employees into IT Decision Making), go well beyond the scope of the Iron Chef America scales. Which analysis of user experience would be most appropriate or beneficial in your world of work?

If you'd like to learn more about Iron Chef America, see Wikipedia's detailed description. Better yet, if you can, just watch the show!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Conducting "ethnographic" research

I have argued for a long time that use of "ethnographic" research methods can play a major role in moving user experience into a position of significant corporate influence.

And I've referenced at least three examples of this kind of impact in past blog entries:
  1. In my first blog entry of the year, I described how user experience personnel at Wells Fargo embed ethnographic research insights in user-centered design tools they have developed that are increasingly used by business strategists for strategic business planning, facilitating "a transition from a product- to a more customer-centric culture."
  2. In "On concept design, ethnography, MRDs, and product vision" and "Making changes to a company's culture," I described how ethnographic research enabled the conception and design of a new, successful product at Intuit, spawning a series of new products from a company that had been "entrenched in twenty-one years of legacy processes and mindsets" and, hence, hadn't released a "version 1.0" product for many years.
  3. In "Perturbing the ecosystem via intensive, rapid, cross-disciplinary collaboration," I described how involving product management and marketing and engineering personnel in ethnographic research analysis and synthesis at Yahoo! changed a somewhat contentious, confused relationship between product management and user experience personnel into a strategic partnership.
References to additional examples can be found elsewhere. For example, during an October 2006 interview by Mark Vanderbeeken, Anne Kirah said:
“When (Microsoft) hired me eight years ago as the first official anthropologist, they weren’t sure what to do with me, so they had me design my own job. I soon realised that Microsoft had until then the tendency to come up with feature and product designs within the confines of its own walls. ... What went on in the minds of Microsoft’s brilliant software engineers and of people outside the walls of Microsoft, was not always very congruent … so I created the Real People Real Data (RPRD) programme... My work on the RPRD programme was in fact the start of a revolution within Microsoft, and helped the company change from techno-driven to people-driven design."
(Note that later in the interview, Mark asked, "Is Microsoft now a people-centred company?" Anne's response: "Parts of it are, parts of it are not. But that is the direction they are going...")

However, is conducting ethnographic research essential for user experience to have that kind of impact?

At CHI 2007, I'll be leading a session entitled, "Moving User Experience into a Position of Corporate Influence: Whose Advice Really Works?" featuring a group of 7 people who have been or who are in senior management roles in a mix of companies. Though all 7 have helped move user experience into a position of corporate influence, ethnographic research has not played (that much of) a role in all cases.

Why is this?

We'll address these questions, along with related questions regarding "ownership of user-customer experience," "organizational positioning," "documenting and evangelizing user experience work," and "calculating return on investment" during the conference session. And I'll address all these topics further and the CHI conference session itself in upcoming blog entries.