The user experience practitioner as change agent [UX Matters]

Paul J. Sherman
Paul J. Sherman, director of user-centered design at Sage Software in Atlanta, Georgia, has written a long and thoughtful feature story for UX matters on how to deal with organisations that aren’t very experienced in user-centred design (UCD) or usability engineering, and how to circumvent the “barriers to integrating UCD techniques earlier in the product development lifecycle”, which are “cultural in nature”.

According to Sherman “it suggests that gulfs exist between the cultures of product management and engineering and between both of them and user experience.”

His experience working within various organisational cultures has taught him “that there are two effective ways of bridging this gulf between us and them”: “becoming liaisons between these disciplines—that is, across cultures” and “considering ourselves change agents whose primary approaches are those relating to user experience”. In other words, Sherman is convinced that “UX professionals are really change agents who happen to use a particular set of tools, methods, and techniques”.

“No matter the size of our organizations or the domains we work within, our most valuable contributions are not our design or user research efforts. Rather, our most valuable contributions occur when we function as change agents.” […]

“Whether you’re an interaction designer, usability practitioner, information architect, or all of the above, your role is to prevent your organization from practicing business as usual. Our UX training and experience have given us the methods we employ to acquire the data, recognize the applicable design principles or patterns, and so on. But the soft skills we use to span the divides between disciplines and ensure that product teams consider users’ needs are part and parcel of the change agent role.” […]

“This reconceptualization should help us stay focused on the long game—the never-ending effort to maintain and improve our organizations’ focus on the user, as well as to help our neighboring disciplines develop a clear, accurate picture of the users’ goals, needs, motivations, and struggles.”

Paul K. Sherman, who is also the vice-president of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA), recently edited the book “Usability Success Stories: How Organizations Improve By Making Easier-To-Use Software and Websites“.

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