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User Experience Development: What? So What? Now What?

By Aaron Marcus

This special issue focusing on user experience strategies, tactics, models, and their relation to rapid software development techniques, owes its existence to several catalytic events. One is the direct influence of Rich Gunther’s workshop about user experience (UX) development methods and metrics which he ran at UPA 2006. He, Randy Sieffert, and I proposed a follow-on workshop about UX strategies, tactics, and methods for UPA 2009, but unfortunately, the workshop was not held. Another catalyst for this issue was a session on the subject of user experience strategies, tactics, and models that I chaired at HCI International 2009. This issue was also prompted by a survey I conducted among top-level managers at enterprise UX groups worldwide and published in the UPA 2009 Proceedings. Finally, Cindy Lu’s workshop on Agile methods at UPA 2009 became another generator of content and a driver for this special issue.

There are many fast-paced changes taking place in our industry today, as user experience professionals are called upon to assist and work with new product and service development processes. Our issue aims to explore some of these interactions and the themes of establishing and maintaining UX development groups.

UX development has grown in the last twenty to thirty years to encompass everything from heuristic evaluations, ethnographic field studies, and rapid prototyping, to numerous variations of user testing. Factors that affect which techniques might be used include the availability of appropriate technology, professionals, users, budgets, and time. The effects of a user-centered design approach are being evaluated by ever-more sophisticated metrics regarding customer satisfaction, end-user engagement, efficiency of development, relation to industry or company benchmarks, and return on investment.

Growing even faster are the number of universities and other organizations offering courses in UX-related topics; the number of professional organizations (for example, UPA, CHI, STC, HFES, AIGA) offering conferences, publications, and events centered around professional training; and the number of disciplines and people that are involved in the UX of products and services worldwide. Many enterprises have made significant shifts in their allocation of budgets and personnel to support product/service development. Large-scale shifts have occurred: outsized human-factors groups are being re-assigned or re-directed; UX groups are incorporating anthropologists and ethnographers into projects as core team members, not subsidiary contributors; user interface design and interaction design teams are merging and morphing into new UX groups to serve software development groups.

Many enterprises have made significant advances in shifting their attention to UX development. For example, IBM gained significant fame over the last five or ten years for its ease-of-use website. The internal intranet available to IBM staff provides an archive of documents about specifications, processes, resources, and terminology that is formidable in size and scope. Several high-level IBM managers have been appointed to routinely visit centers of UXD in order to assess the quality and consistency of attention to best practices. One of them, Karel Vredenburg, has even published a book about their approach.

Some enterprises experiment with very centralized groups. Others use a more decentralized approach, while a third approach combines the two: a central hub with “spokes” of people sent out from headquarters and paid by headquarters to be “embedded with the troops” for a number of years before the satellite groups become separately funded centers of excellence supported by the local business units. What emerged as useful statistics in the survey are trends like the typical percentage of UX professionals working with software development groups, and the breakdown of time assignments for various phases of UX development.

In light of all this change, it is no surprise that one model becomes desirable, one that can encompass a description of what is possible, what is desirable, and where any individual group sits in an evolving process that might span five years—if not a decade.

Equally challenging is how to align the emerging UX and UCD methods with the rapidly changing scene of software development. Over the last ten years, new approaches to rapid, unified, coherent software development have emerged. Five to ten years ago, everyone was talking about Rational Unified Processes (from IBM) and other similar methods. Now it is specifically Agile methods, which themselves have sprung sects or subgroups of devotees. How UX professionals can best apply their carefully developed professional methods to a new set of tasks, people, processes, and terminology remains to be determined.

In this issue, we enter the maelstrom of these two rapidly developing, forcefully evolving whirlwinds and look for ways in which the energy and passion of both worlds—UX and software development—can be usefully synchronized, for the eventual beneficial result: better products and services, and better user experiences.UX

Enjoy the show,

Aaron Marcus

 

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User Experience Magazine is by and about usability professionals, featuring significant and unique articles dealing with the broad field of usability and the user experience.
http://www.usabilityprofessionals.org/upa_publications/user_experience/

This article was originally printed in User Experience Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 1, 2010.
http://www.usabilityprofessionals.org/upa_publications/past_issues/2010-9.html.

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