Developing a Better UX Organization

Inspired by a Peter Merholz lecture at IA Summit 2015:

To deliver great user experiences, it’s not just about getting the best design out the door. It starts with getting the organization right.

There are different organizational models to deliver great UX. Each has strengths and weaknesses.

The most common organization model is a decentralized and embedded model. This allows each team (commerce, social, marketing, etc) to have a designer and developer and allows the designer to be included throughout the entire lifecycle. They are involved in decisions and part of the team. However, this causes a fractured user experience throughout the site and can be lonely for a designer to not be with other designers/developers.

A new model is to organize for the user journey. This creates a centralized partnership. Designers may work on a particular section or platform, but still act as one design group. The user may follow a particular journey: email/ad campaign > commerce > knowledge seeking > social. If designers function as a group and follow the same methodologies and design practices, the user experience is unified.

However, if commerce designers have a different idea of design than marketing and marketing is different than social, than this creates an incongruent user experience and can erode confidence on a subconscious level for the user.

To maintain a cohesive user journey your organization should be focused on business/user problems and less on actual function. This requires strong centralized leadership who manages both down and across to form partnerships to achieve the business need.

When to Send Designs to Developers

Most workflows are designed to get to development as quick as possible to begin showing progress to stakeholders and give users something to test. This is Lean UX or Agile Development.

Example: design > user testing > development > user testing > deploy > iterate > deploy

However, this results in potential wasted development work and end user confidence erosion as the work through clunky user interfaces or buggy software. Iteration is a myth because both UX and development are moved to a new project after deployment and never come back to make improves or add business requirements that were originally out of scope.

When working on design problems, the UX team needs to iterate early and often before submitting final designs to development. They should run the designs through multiple phases of user testing. This ensures a quality final product that benefits the user. It also eliminates the need for redesign months or weeks later, because the new designs are “working”.

Example: design > user testing > iteration > user testing > iteration > user testing > development > deploy.

This methodology flies in face of the new “lean” trend. Be wary of the terms “lean” or “agile”. These can be crutches to free people from critical thinking. Each new problem may require a new workflow methodology. Do not rely on a one-size-fits-all workflow. Lean and agile are developer terms and should be used when focusing on execution of vision, not user testing and iterations.

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