UX Design, Usability, UCD

tree-swingI’ve always loved this picture, mainly because it seems to really hit the reality nail on the head in its tragically accurate depiction of digital projects. But less of that, the question we should all be asking is where does UX sit in this image?

The answer, ideally, is that the new UX box should have exactly what the customer needed as well as some extra oompf factor that they didn’t even know they wanted, but after using it couldn’t understand how they had ever lived without it. An even better answer might be that the UX box is the the entire image, evolving through each stage of the project to add more definition and to safeguard our final product.

Just in case you’re interested I have listed all the weird and wonderful role acronyms from the title and their meanings at the bottom of this article, but the crux of this story is that there are simply far too many of them.

A sad but true fact is that I have officially worn every single one of the hats mentioned, except designer, nobody would be crazy enough to give me that title, not that I can’t design, but I just don’t have the time or patience for pushing a pixel here and a pixel there.

Back in the 90’s, when I officially started coding professionally for Price Waterhouse, we didn’t have any of them, just consultants, that was it. Steve was a whizz at infrastructure, Dave was the lead consultant who managed planning and project management and the rest of us were just some hard core developer consultants – design didn’t exist at this point in the digital arena – neither did the internet come to that. Just to provide some context it was 1992 and my mobile phone weighed in at 8 kilos including the enormous battery and my mobile computer (laptops came later) was about 25 kilos for which I still have a bad shoulder from lugging it around the country on assignment.

In particular, I want to discuss the roles of UX,BA and IA and I think it is worth having a semi-official description of each.

IA: Information architecture is the structural design of shared information environments; the art and science of organizing and labelling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability; and an emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape – link

BA: Business analysis is a research discipline of identifying business needs and determining solutions to business problems. Solutions often include a software-systems development component, but may also consist of process improvement, organizational change or strategic planning and policy development

UX: User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency. User experience may be considered subjective in nature to the degree that it is about individual perception and thought with respect to the system. User experience is dynamic as it is constantly modified over time due to changing usage circumstances and changes to individual systems as well as the wider usage context in which they can be found.

Those are the official ones. Now here are mine. The BA is concerned only with the business, they are official recorders of the needs of said business and the designers of  high level solutions but not granular to a coding event. The IA is primarily involved with defining the information on a new solution, determining entities and taxonomies and presenting a structure for said information to exist. The UX is, theoretically, the role which subsumes the IA and BA role and also offers a brand new perspective to the structure and the solutions which are taken from the end-user or customer perspective. They have to be part BA in order to find and resolve conflict between what the business needs and what the customer wants. They are interested in re-writing the business needs in terms of journeys or stories that the customer will travel through happily and their primary concern is with the emotional impact that software solutions will impart to a customer. Hopefully good emotions.

Now here is a trickier one. The difference between a UX designer and a UX architect – well, none in many peoples eyes. I have seen cases where the latter is more qualified than the former but also cases where a 21 year old fresh out of Uni was given the title of architect. I think it’s more important to look at what they should be producing and have experience of rather than the title alone. So here is a list of outputs and tasks I would expect my UX body to be able to create or manage:

  • Documentation and presentation skills, clear and concise, explaining the role of UX in a project
  • Conducting expert reviews – including an heuristic evaluation and usability review of UI as well as full journey analysis
  • Conducting competitor reviews
  • Running requirements or discovery workshops
  • Business analysis skills as a starting point before the customer experience aspect is considered
  • Creating and researching a persona list of customers
  • Collating a series of journeys and stories the persona’s will travel
  • Creating wire-frames, prototypes and entity life histories
  • Creating technically sound (Javascript frameworks, CMS exchanges and API concepts for RESTful solutions) and budget friendly specifications for UI and back end functional and non-functional requirements
  • Conducting user research with techniques like card sort and interviews
  • Creating taxonomy and information architecture
  • Managing clients, budgets and quality assuring sprint deliverables

If you have that, and it’s unlikely all of this will sit inside of a 21 year olds head, then you have what I would be happy to call a UX architect. Anything less and there will probably be some tears at bedtime.

One particular bugbear of mine is visual designers being passed off as UX experienced. Yes, they will be able to do quite a lot of that list, and even create a design, but they will fall down on any technical requirements usually – the most common failing is a 2-dimensional perspective on digital solutions and not 4 dimensional which is where most interaction specialists come from (x,y,depth and, most importantly, time).

So, unless you have snagged what is commonly referred to as a unicorn, for obvious reasons, good luck with that one.

So here’s the list:

  • UXD – User experience designer
  • UXA – User experience architect
  • UXS – User experience strategist
  • IA – Information architect
  • BA – Business analyst
  • EA – Experience architect
  • CX – Customer experience architect
  • IxD – Interaction designer
  • UID – Designer

As for me, myself and I, well, I don’t particularly fit into any specific mould, that’s why I have decide to call myself an Experience Engineer. Silly, isn’t it. Just you wait, they’ll be thousands of them before the year is out.