Usability Professionals Must Disappear
Friday, August 8, 2003
by Mark Hurst
Get Good Experience by e-mail: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Some professions are easier to label than others. Lawyers, doctors,
accountants, firemen, plumbers - these people can name their job
easily at a cocktail party.
Somehow "user experience practitioner" doesn't roll off the tongue so
easily. Hence the inevitable effort for UX-types to name what it is
they do: at conferences and in newsletters, for years, I've seen the
endless discussions. Should it be "usability professional"?
"Information designer"? "Interaction architect"? Some other
Here's my proposal - easy to pronounce, easy to understand, just two
easy words: "Who cares?"
The fact is, every company is bound to call this group something
different. "User experience team," "customer experience task force,"
"user-centered design group." There's no use in trying to standardize
something that each company names on its own. You might as well ask
every company in the world to standardize the name of their technology
department. Is it "MIS"? Or maybe "IT"? Perhaps it's just
"Development," or maybe "Programming," or "the techies"? Once again,
the answer is "Who cares?" Each company chooses for itself.
It's true that user experience practitioners love to talk about
labelling. So why not talk endlessly about how to label user
Well, two reasons. At best, these endless discussions are
self-indulgent and distract practitioners from doing work with actual
value: instead of being user-centered, they're being UX-centered.
(To quote Miss Piggy, "Me me meeeeeee...") Big difference.
At worst, all the worry about naming the profession can harm how the
larger organization relates to the practitioner. The more highfalutin
your job title, the less the marketers, techies, and managers will
listen to what you say. ("Ahh, you're the user-centered interaction
usability architect? Right, very smart. Well, just drop your report on
my desk and go right on back to your cube in the corner... user boy.")
Now, there's no doubt that some organizations are better at valuing UX
than others. A few smart companies have appointed a VP of Customer
Experience and built a team around him or her (usually a "her," in my
experience) to monitor and improve the customer experience of the site
or product. These companies tend to perform much better than companies
without a customer experience team.
Still, I don't think that the name itself is the magic ingredient...
or at least, standardizing a name across the industry isn't going to
suddenly make practitioners more valued.
Here's the thing about user experience work: its success depends
primarily on the buy-in from everybody else in the larger
organization. The primary issue isn't what you're named, but what
results you're generating, and what buy-in you're getting from the
This brings me to my own highfalutin solution to the real issue
usability professionals are trying to address - namely, that they're
not taken seriously enough in the organization:
Usability professionals must disappear.
Instead of singing "me me meeee" about their job title (and, for
that matter, their peculiar UX-centered research methods), usability
professionals should disappear - like any good interface - and
just serve the company and the various groups inside it.
In short, a good user experience practitioner is a facilitator -
someone who quietly (having disappeared) guides the process,
allowing knowledge to emerge, from users and the company alike.
Instead of coming in with the answers, or the framework, or (my
personal favorite) "the 200 rules of user experience design," they
should come in with their auditory organs turned up to eleven.
As facilitators, truly caring about the organization and how it can
best serve its customers, practitioners will then be more valued.
After all, who do you take more seriously: the person with the
impressive job title who frets endlessly about their own issues and
loves telling you the answers, or the person who quietly listens to
you before saying anything?
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