Monday, February 19, 2007

The User Experience (UX) Professional - Part Negotiator, Part Anthropologist

One of the things I enjoy about my profession is that I have an opportunity to bridge the gap between groups that at times seem at odds with one another.

Keeping in context with technology, product development has many players. Depending on the size of an organization, you may have a number parties intermingling with their own vested interest in building a product that will hopefully make a profit for the company. Departments such as Engineering, Legal, Finance, Marketing, Sales, etc., all have a role in developing a product that will represent their company.

In my own personal experience, I have never witnessed two dissimilar departments or groups within an organization coexist without any conflict. It's almost human nature for this to occur even in the microcosm of an organization. Each have their own frame of reference unique to their fields of expertise in relation to the project at hand.

Recently I read a blog post that validated my feelings toward my profession from a cultural and change-agent perspective. It explains how we as end-user advocates can bridge the gap between an engineering group, for example, that may want to keep the size of the product to an exact specification and a marketing and sales group that wants to pack a product with features and functions that will inevitably increase its size but will help it sell better. Between these two extremes the UX professional can help the two groups communicate with one another by showing advantages and disadvantages to their viewpoints while at the same time maintain the integrity of the product's user-centered design. In other words, keep the user's needs first and foremost in our minds. Compromises can be met or arguments can be made to sway viewpoints, but all the while the end-user is the central focus.

This third-party role the UX professional plays reminds me of an earlier post I did on Innovation Killers. If you have a moment, please check that out because you'll see how thinking within a group that is too focused often leads to little or no innovation. Only when you throw a third party or a person with a different perspective in the mix you begin to stir things up to help brew innovative ideas.

As an end-user advocate we are neither solid in our knowledge of systems or technology, nor are solid in our knowledge of business or finance. We manage to learn enough about all the applicable disciplines so we can serve many interests and not just one. What we manage to do is keep ourselves in a rather "fluid" state to serve as the glue between dissimilar groups and help bind them together to create a better understanding and consensus.

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