Thursday, December 22, 2005


icing or cake?

People who know me know I have misgivings about the phrase "user experience". Sometimes the phrase is appropriate (e.g., when discussing a purely recreational interaction), but oftentimes it is used in a lazy way to describe a raft of benefits of UCD. Today I encountered a good example how the phrase "user experience" can pollute the minds of people.

I was talking with someone who had previously engaged a well known "user experience" consultancy for advice. The consultancy has a fine, international reputation, and I have seen some of their work, which is good. I'm not slagging their ability in the least. But what I do object to is how they cast the benefits of UCD. They talked the standard talk about improving user experience. The message came through clearly. Yes, user experience is good, but face it, it really isn't our highest priority. Sure, it is nice to offer a good user experience, I'm sure our employees would be grateful, but the really important issues are functionality, how we can value from our databases.

Most people in UCD can't speak the language of business, so they talk user experience. They can't tie benefits to existing business goals, so they rely on the feel good factor, with vague suggestions that unhappy people make mistakes or leave in frustration (not only a insufficiently substantiated suggestion, but a negative one to boot.)

But businesses aren't intrinsically empathic. Quite the opposite: business organizations don't care about happiness unless there is a monetary consequence involved. Until we develop a physics of happiness, with certain, immutable laws resulting, appealing to happiness won't effect any impersonal outcome produced by an organization.

We need to stop looking for admiration by acting like nice guys, and win respect by solving organizational problems.

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