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.