Preface - Institutionalization of UX: A Step-by-Step Guide to a User Experience Practice, Second Edition (2014)

Institutionalization of UX: A Step-by-Step Guide to a User Experience Practice, Second Edition (2014)


More than ten years ago, I wrote The Institutionalization of Usability. Now, so much has changed in the field that a very new edition is needed. For one thing, the name of the field has changed. We now call ourselves “user experience (UX) designers.” With that change in title comes new responsibilities. We no longer can focus on simple tasks and human–computer interaction. Systems are embedded everywhere, and we must design for complex ecosystems. That means using ethnographically inspired methods and advanced tools for knowledge management. It is no longer enough to make a site or application easy to use. Usability is now a hygiene factor—to be competitive, most organizations must understand how to engineer persuasion into their digital systems. In turn, we need a whole new set of methods and insights that let us systematically design for engagement, psychological influence, and customer commitment.

The field has also reached up the value chain within organizations. A UX team that deals with only the details of radio buttons and check boxes is committing a disservice to its organization. Today UX groups must deal with strategy. We must help define how executive intent can be turned into successful designs and the desired business results. So the executive wants to transition customers into low-cost, digital channels—why will the customer want to make that transition? The UX team must design the cross-channel integration and optimization so that customers will understand which channel to use and will experience a common but appropriate interaction on the Web, mobile device, tablet, or other device.

Finally, the UX team is a key component of the organization’s innovation process.

When I wrote Institutionalization of Usability, the idea of a mature, industrial-strength practice seemed remote to most people. I debated this topic with the great usability pioneer Jared Spool in a session that was billed as “The Celebrity Death Match.” His argument was that usability could be practiced only as craftsmanship—that it could not be institutionalized. Yet I was already institutionalizing it within my own company, Human Factors International, Inc. (HFI), and starting to help my corporate clients build their own practice. Today, most organizations of any size and sophistication are building UX teams, and there is widespread recognition that customer-centered design is the best practice for system development. In the process of helping to mature our clients’ UX teams, we have learned quite a lot.

The challenges of institutionalization have clearly changed. In the past, the major issue was securing executive championship. Today, however, most high-level executives understand that customer experience is a key business goal. They have read about the user experience economy, seen Apple Computer thrive, and read innumerable executive briefings on customer experience. Unfortunately, these executives often have no idea how to bring about UX, and they take a fairly predictable set of wrong paths to try to make it happen. In addition, there are still challenges in culture change and governance—cultural and organizational design issues are pivotal today. Staffing also poses serious challenges. It is common for organizations to get perhaps 2% of the UX staff they need and then drop the initiative when they find that their designs have not substantially improved, and their UX team seems demoralized. Yet the pool of qualified UX specialists remains small. HFI is by now quite experienced in hiring practices, internal training, and the use of offshore resources.

Setting up a UX infrastructure today is relatively easy. Training and certification are available. Methods and standards simply need to be customized to fit an organization’s needs, and plenty of new UX tools can be readily accessed. These foundational components should no longer be an impediment to creating a UX capability.

The best practice of UX work has been a bit of a surprise. My initial thought was that institutionalized UX work would be like what it was in the 1990s, except that there would be more of it. I thought implementing UX would involve more craftspeople and apprentices. They would have methods and standards, of course, but, I thought, the experience would essentially be more of the same. Instead, it turns out that pivoting to a serious UX practice entails fundamental changes in the way the work gets done. We have even seen the dawn of object-oriented UX work, which optimizes reuse.

Finally, in this book I would like to introduce Apala Lahiri, CEO of HFI’s Global Customer Experience Institute and an expert in cross-cultural design. The Institute has one objective: to answer the question, “How does one best operate a UX practice that must design for users worldwide?” Do we need to have a UX team in each of our 115 target countries? Clearly not. Yet Apala’s motto is “think globally and lose locally.” A design created for “the world” will rarely compete with a design created with sharp focus on a given culture and context. Based on my experiences, and with Apala’s contributions, we will share the current best practices for a global UX operation in this edition.