The Most Important User Experience Method
Friday, June 20, 2003
by Mark Hurst
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One of my favorite stories about user experience consulting came
from a project Creative Good conducted a couple of years back for a
large organization. The project team went through the usual steps -
creating a business-focused context, conducting user tests (what we
call "listening labs"), and making recommendations for improvement
with wireframe diagrams.
With our sponsor excited about the results, all that remained was to
take something out to the larger organization, for those executives
who hadn't attended our listening labs. So, at the client's request,
we combed through the lab videotapes and created a professionally
edited video summarizing the results and our suggestions for
The video was outstanding: a pithy intro, then scenes of users
failing on the current site, followed by our list of common-sense
improvements to the website that would surely boost the client's
business, increasing their profits.
The video never made it out to the larger organization.
As soon as some key people outside our sponsor's group saw it, they
halted the video's progress around the company. The word came back:
the video was unacceptable because it implied that the website had
problems. (!) What they wanted instead was a video that showed how
great the website was, and what a great job the company was doing
overall. In the end, the website did eventually change, but it took
careful work with the organization to make it happen.
I bring up this story because it underlines a point that comes up a
lot in my conversations with user experience practitioners at
conferences and client projects:
Changing the organization
is the most difficult
and most important part
of user experience work.
Said another way: you can give the smartest answers in the world,
make the most brilliant recommendations; but if the organization
doesn't actually change the user experience, it's all worthless.
Your final report, nicely printed and bound, with such carefully
chosen words, will gather dust in some forgotten pile, forever.
If you really want to become a better user experience practitioner,
learn how to work with and change the organization. This is in
contrast to most UX books and events, which are endless discussions
of methods: Card sorting. Remote usability. User profiles (ohh,
this industry's obsession with user profiles and personas, ohh my
Next time you're at an event, check the agenda for sessions on how
to measure business results; or how to get Marketing and IT to work
together better; or how to present the results of a UX project to a
senior VP; or how to build a customer experience team, with a VP of
Customer Experience at the helm; how to change the organization.
Those will serve you much better.
This isn't to belittle traditional UX methods, which of course have
their place. Rather, I simply point out that the dialog in our
community is so fixated on particular usability methods that we've
missed "the elephant in the living room": none of this matters
if it doesn't result in the organization actually making the
User experience only matters if it has real-world results.
User experience work
should be measured only by
Results only come if the organization is the primary focus of user
experience work. And yes, there are some particular methods to
organizational work (and, for that matter, measuring results). I'll
get to those in a future column.
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