Ignite: The Business of User-Centered Design
Sample Submission from Jim Hudson
Ignite: The Business of User-Centered Design
Panel: There's more than one way to skin a cat: Integrating UX into an Agile environment
Janice James et al.
By itself, user-centered design (UCD) is not enough to create financially successful innovations. To make an impact in the corporate world, UX partitioners must collaborate with customers, technologists, MBAs, investors, and many others. In this session, we'll examine our business collaborators. We'll look at how our these critical partners view the world, what they bring to UCD, and how we can collaborate to produce a uniquely customer-centered corporate culture.
When we first started talking about user-centered design (UCD) in our community, it was a revolutionary idea. Businesses weren't customer-centric, and they didn't know how to go about understanding their users. It's been a long journey for our community, but the corporate world has changed significantly since the ISO standards for UCD were created in 1999. Today, leading companies spend millions to support sophisticated design and research teams. It's not surprising to hear CEOs and CFOs talking with investors about listening to customer needs. But, the sad truth is that this talk of customer-centricity doesn't always manifest itself into the realities of corporate product development.
In keeping with this year's conference theme, it's up to our community to reinvent UCD from a process owned by UX partitioners into a collaboration that includes technologists, MBAs, investors, and many others. To fully participate in this type of collaboration, we need to better understand our business partners. We need to understand how a balance sheet drives what is feasible for designers. We need to understand how customer needs get filtered through the lens of corporate capabilities. We need to understand that a great idea will not help our customers if we don't have a business plan that will produce appropriate profit margins. Simply put, we need to understand the business behind UCD so that we can deliver great products to our customers.
To share an example, I had the opportunity to work with world-class UX partitioners in a corporate R&D environment early in my career. We did UCD by the book, and came up with some compelling product ideas. With help of a talented team of MBAs, we even put together a business plan that forecast significant ROI within the first 18 months. From where we sat, the case looked solid--we knew we were meeting a clear customer need, and we knew we could make a profit from doing so. Then, we received the CEO's decision: No!
In the project post-mortem, this CEO of a multi-billion dollar company graciously sat down to help us understand why he wouldn't invest in our proposal. Like all successful CEOs, he deeply understood his large, institutional investors and what they expected of him. This happened to be an old, established company whose investors valued predictability--when our CEO forecasted quarterly profits, investors expected the company to meet those forecasts. Whether under or over, any missed forecasts would indicate poor management controls that would undermine his promise of predictability. Simply put, the initial up-front investment to build our product cost too much to absorb in a single quarter while simultaneously introducing too much future risk that our products' forecasts would be wrong--the chances of our idea doing significant damage to our stock price (and, by extension, many people's retirement / life savings) were too high.
As UX practitioners, it would be easy to blame the CEO, the investors, the quarterly financial system, or a million other causes for failing to deliver a product that would have solved a clear customer need. But, ultimately, the blame falls on our UCD team for failing to understand our partners' worlds. We didn't understand the far-reaching consequences of our product ideas and we didn't incorporate that into our plans for getting this idea into our customers' hands. Simply put, we failed to collaborate effectively with our product leaders.
In this session, we'll invite speakers from a variety of corporate environments to help us better understand our business collaborators. I'll begin by presenting a framework that flips UCD on its head. Based on the work of Austin Henderson and Jim Euchner, this framework suggests that financially successful innovations need not be user "centered." Instead, they need to balance four competing constraints. They must (1) be technologically feasible, (2) financially viable, (3) achievable within a specific corporate context, and (4) meet customer needs. Users are a key piece of the equation, but innovation must simultaneously navigate all four of these constraints to be financially successful.
The call for speakers will be widely available to anyone who can help our UX community better understand and work with our business collaborators.
Simply put, I expect the audience to learn how to be better business collaborators. I expect the audience to move beyond a discipline-centric view of "user-centered design" to a more nuanced understanding of the various corporate forces that must come together for us to deliver world-class customer experiences.
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