Monday, April 25, 2005

Partial Answer to a Good Question

A wise friend of mine asked me a couple weeks ago what I'm attempting to accomplish with this blog. My answer at the time was something to the affect of, "I'm trying to connect the various thoughts that pop into my head as I go about my day and ricochet around the Web."

Last week, I happened on Scott Berkun's truly amazing essay, Why smart people defend dumb ideas.

My preference when discussing an idea or determining an action almost always results at some point with a desire for me to let it ferment in my head for a bit. Then, at some strange moment, usually when I'm driving home upon my iPod's aural surf or enjoying how well my favorite baseball team is starting the season, the "answer" will hit me.

Now, I have few more thoughts about her question.

For 7 years now, I've been talking with and watching people use technology. For 12 years, I've been talking directly with customers or watching them interact with companies. The entire time, I've felt that the businesses have very strange ways of making decisions.

Back in 1999, I was asking around about why websites had interesting functionality or looked "cool," but you could basically forget being able to actually use it or find anything. Another swami pointed me in the direction of usability.

I found that interesting, and watching over 2 years of weekly user testing certainly helped my education along. I quickly discovered a major dissonance. The focus of usability tests (we were doing) was "does/doesn't the ui work," while the participants were revealing more interesting and far-reaching subtexts such as "Why would I want to do this?" or "I'd prefer to do this another way."

The funny thing was that, though they were generally on the same side, designers and usability folk were, at that point (and only slightly less so now) talking almost the same language, but with different accents or foci. At first, I tried to bridge that gap by working with the designers (through product managers) to set the stage for the context of a project and what ui issues might pop up in the project.

Shortly, the PMs started to come to me when the project started to discuss how their business problem might best be solved. This cemented my interest in the path which we've started down - finding a way to answer some of those issues to which the aforementioned users were alluding.

Now back to some of those "very strange ways of making decisions." Usually businesses are driven to action by:
  • some particular business driver (cut service costs, increase a particular transaction)
  • a desire to offer a new service
  • some competitor offered a feature, and we have to copy
  • some executive whim (said dumb idea) cascades down the org, most of which have little or no mechanism to diffuse or redirect the idea.
  • desperation
Lately, I'm struck that the design community might just be ready to help business rethink how they make decisions. That is an intensely interesting problem to me, and one that I'm convinced could entertain the lot of us for a very long time. Still, as with any new ideas (or new uses of old ideas, if you must), there's a lot of noise out there diverting the application of said solution and different possible threads.

Thus, I'd like to use this blog for:
  • Capturing interesting ideas that help connect what users need to the strategic directions of organizations
  • Connecting seemingly unrelated ideas to the above affect
  • Making a contribution to the larger context of our discussions about UX (or whatever we end up calling it), technologies, and the greater interaction environment.
Certainly, these items will continue to evolve. Just wanted to capture them now.

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