“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Organizing the User Experience (UX) field!

Through what we have learned from Information Architecture we know today that proper nomenclature and taxonomy are an important force in organizing not just information but also people. Organizing people effectively is something that the UX field has not achieved as of yet. We are still misunderstood by our peers and have not achieved the same level of enfranchisement as the other components that go into the marketing and implementation of the types of products and services we create.

I have re-written this article some 5 times over this past week and what I have been struggling with is a complex evolution that has emerged as the field of User Experience (UX) as defined by UXnet.org. This emerging, inherently interdisciplinary field is young and confused. The many facets that make it up are jumbled and unclear. There are huge overlaps depending on who is speaking where people are using terms both as particular and general such as “usability”. Is it the process of validating design, or is it user experience design itself? I have heard people use this one word both ways in the same sentence. This same confusion of language has also occurred through our organizing efforts. The UPA, CHI, and IA Summit conferences have so much cross-over between them that instead of having one conference where everyone can come, we have 3 conferences where no one feels confident that their money spent would be the best investment.

If we are to remedy the situation we need to face the reality that our interdisciplinary present is reaped in separate disciplines of the past that have converged together at this point in history to create in themselves and through their influence in others a whole new field. For this new field, UX, to survive there needs to be a balancing act between those disciplines with a longer history and those that are newer. This balance is key if we are not to remain stagnant as a field. We need to be respectful of the new poignant informants of this field who are actually the linchpin that keep it together. Without the new, we would still be separate from each other and have learned nothing.

On the flip side, the convergence that has taken place has done so in a confused manner and this confusion has left us disenfranchised among our peers inside of UX. They don’t understand what we are talking about and how we achieve any results. We have no standard semantics or syntax to work with so as we move from project to project and organization to organization we end up re-learning and re-teaching not exactly from scratch, but at a level of redundancy that does no one any good.

For me the core of this problem is in the nomenclature and taxonomy that we use to represent the field of User Experience to the “outside” world. It is vital that we don’t give double meanings to words of the trade, that we substitute the politics that seem to be dividing us for the practicalities that we need to put forth. This needs to be done no matter how uncomfortable those most greatly effected get. There needs to be made room in people’s vocabulary to allow new terms to replace their old ones. Terms like “usability”, “HCI”, “UCD” which have been used almost as synonyms need to be made to be particular of each other and of other new words like “information architecture” and “interaction design”.

There are those disciplines which are creative, solution oriented:

  • Information Architecture – structure
  • Visual & Information Design – presentation
  • Interaction & User Interface Design – behavior

These disciplines have some level of cross over, but basically represent the disciplines used for bring a final product strategy to its tactical realization.

There are those disciplines that are informative:

  • Usability Engineering – evaluative
  • HCI – research

These disciplines bring guidance to the the first set. These help set up guidelines and best practices in different mediums changing random creativity towards a more successful overall solution. However, they do not form solutions, as they are not applications of guidelines, as they alone are not enough to move from evaluation to design.

Finally, there are those disciplines that are strategic which for the most part exist outside of the user experience sphere usually more connected to the business side of the equation than most practitioners of disciplines in User Experience get to go.

By viewing UX from this viewpoint we can both nurture the new disciplines while helping UX as a field advocate for itself by eliminating the confusion that arises when one company says X another says Y and another says Z. Consistency of vocabulary where the same word is not used both as the particular AND the general is crucial for our success.

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