Tom Chi  

The Real World - Your Company

March 4th, 2005 by Tom Chi :: see related comic

In previous articles we’ve spent plenty of time looking at the tension between design and usability, but this week I’ve been thinking about the relationship between UX people and management. In the community the story has always been: “how can we convince the stakeholders to listen to us?! ARRG!!” For effect this should be said in an exasperated tone with hands clutching inward, shaking in the air.

Our response to this problem has traditionally been to evangelize and “demonstrate the value” of both usability and design to our managers and their managers. This has proven difficult. We blame it on our inability to accurately quantify the ROI for testing, or even the essential nature of design being difficult for non-designers to grasp. To date, these tries have been largely unproductive.

During UIE9 I listened to Eric Schaffer talk about ‘institutionalization of usability’. In fact, he wrote a whole book on it. He notes that one of the main ingredients for success is getting an executive level sponsor for user experience and usability concerns. His take is that you are basically dead in the water until you have this. While I can agree with this premise, it doesn’t really solve the problem of how to convince an executive that UX is key. In fact, it sounds a lot harder than convincing your immediate manager.

But in a recent presentation [pdf] to UPA NYC, Victor Lombardi turns the question around and asks: Can we run the company? Instead of spending our time figuring out how to convince upper management to appreciate UX, can we simply take on those high-level roles and show them how it’s done? It’s an intriguing proposition. After all, we have CTOs, who are high-level executives who provide technological goals company wide, so why not a CXO who directs user experience activities?

Having representatives at all levels in the organization means that our evangelizing workload gets much smaller and we can spend more time on designing the best products for our users. It also provides a more exciting career path for those who study UX disciplines. The ability to move from designing widgets to designing organizations around UX is compelling and is what is needed for our discipline to become mature.

14 Responses to “The Real World - Your Company”
David Heller wrote:

Hiya Tom,

Very fortuitous timing that this came out today. I am at the IA Summit right now and just came out of a great presentation from Janice Fraser of Adaptive Path. She used the work they did: Leveraging Business Value: How ROI Changes UX. It is a research document that AP sells on their website.

I actually bought this paper (well my CTO did) before, but I was thrilled to get the personal touch of this presentation by Janice.

The point is that we need to use our own processes to solve this problem. We need to treat the business owners/stakeholders as users that we need to devise a solution (design) for their needs. We need to speak their language, and their language is Money (aka Value). I can’t go into all teh details here, but the real point is that we have been asking to be understood, but we have not been trying to understand them.

I don’t think we need to take over the company, but we do need the skills and language so that we can if we are asked to. ;)

Jacques Troux wrote:

Je ne sais quoi ;)

Tom Chi wrote:

Whoops… thanks for catching that Jacques!

As for the article, I don’t think we need to take over every company, but just a few would probably do it. Afterall, some companies are technology driven, some are marketing driven, and hopefully soon, more than a handful will be user experience driven. Not every company needs to be, but once a solid number are, executives will start to study UX in order to figure out how to capture that kind of success.

Eric Svoboda wrote:

I think the officer you describe already exists in quite a few companies. You might try doing a search for “Chief Customer Officer”: CCO.

CXO is already taken it seems, as a catch-all term for any C-level title.

Robert Nero wrote:

I have heard of this CXO position before. Years ago I heard of companies starting to implement this position, but in a different context of what we represent here. Their angle was for the CXO to manage every experience the user has with the company, not just the software. So, if they call the company, if they go to their website, if they use their product, if they talk to a salesperson, if they see their brochures… this CXO would make sure it was positive. They would manage the experience of the user whenever they touched the company.

This sort of job description makes more sense for that level of job responsibility. A Chief level executive would be more broad of a title. But underneath the CXO, it would be great to have someone as a VP of Software Experience.

Tom Chi wrote:

To Eric’s point: I’m familiar with the term CXO being a synonym for “all C-level executives”… but not really fond of that usage. ‘CXO’ just sounds too cool not to use it for a cool job.

To Robert’s point, managing the entire experience including what people encounter through customer service would be a great place for an HCI person to end up. The software is just a small part of how a product can play positively or negatively in a customer’s life — so why not have user-centric thinkers take on that challenge as well?

Alain Vaillancourt wrote:

Bordel de merde que c’était drôle, cette fois encore!

Which brings to mind a caveat, where the French language is concerned. All these CCO - CXO acronyms are cool and I think we should experiment with more but remember to stay clear of anything like “Chief Usability Leader” cuz the acronym will provoke frowns or giggling fits among those who understand French.

Dave wrote:

For anybody interested in CXO type directions, this is where the experience design community that has existed for quite some time fits in.">The e-mail list
The AIGA website
The DUX Conference

Ron Zeno wrote:

“Can we run the company?”

While I encourage UX people to learn management skills, I think it is the low-level management skills that are important: how to ensure the success of the design and design teams, how to get more involved on the best projects, how to minimize involvement on the worst projects, etc.

I strongly discourage UX people trying to get involved in executive level management, if they want to continue to be involved in UX. If they can succeed in getting close to an executive level position, something that is a long shot to begin with, they’ll have more opportunities if they give up UX and just focus on being a good executive.

Ian Stalvies wrote:

Working in the UK, I’ve found that despite large (FTSE100) clients, neither management nor the people that pay the bills yet acknowledge user experience - and hence it’s hard enough getting a user experience professional in on a project, let alone a chief in the area.

In my opinion this is generally because UE will add to the budget, and we’re always trying to cut costs to get the sale, yada yada. More agencies need to take the approach of Adaptive Path - take a deep breath, put it in the budget, and stick to our guns.

From there, we build knowledge and appreciation of UA throughout an organisation, not just a lone voice sitting over in the corner.



pomade wrote:

My personal opinion is someday to incorporate user experience into every dicipline in an organization, thus becoming a commodity.
I believe organizations can run better with fewer “C-level” executives.

Bob Salmon wrote:

Just as every program evolves until it can read email, every job title expands until it can impress the opposite sex and/or baffle the uninitiated. Thus Personnel -> HR, programming -> software engineering, designer -> UX. (Cue much flaming. I don’t care: today I’m wearing my asbestos underpants.)

Tom Chi wrote:

Well there are two effects going on. As Bob points out, there really is title inflation, but there is also “field maturation”. In 1980, a programmer was just a programmer. As the field matured, you had database experts and performance experts and language X experts, ad infinitum. The explosion in the number of titles reflected the broadening of the field and the creation of specializations.

So has been the story with human factors, which has specialized into all the fields we current know and love. To make things more complicated, design has specialized as well and some of these roles have intermingled… and thus a desire to sum it all again has brought us to ‘UX’.

We’re certainly not impressing the opposite sex(!), but here at OK/Cancel, we’re baffling the unitiated one day at a time. :p

David Heller wrote:

Software Design Manifesto

It all starts (or re-starts) right here. This back in the early 90’s still resonates with me today as much as it did back then.

Leave a Reply

OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?