Wednesday, March 5, 2008

User Experience overlooked in IT architecture?

User Experience is often thought to be a topic for the User Interface designers. If you leave it up to them you may be heading for disaster, because chances are high the IT solution becomes a monster. Not that there aren't any good UI designers, even though there are many bad ones. It is because the User Experience is probably the "architectural glue" between the human and the machine.

While the relevance of the user experience seem so obvious, IT developers and IT operation staff are notorious when it comes to considering the needs of users. They often take their own perception on IT matters being the same as for anybody else. To illustrate this one can easily fire up a lively conversation on how users are treated at help desks when they have IT issues getting their work done. (Click here if you don't see a video)

Can the developers be blamed? Not really when you see the premises on which they do their work. There are often no decent guidelines for the user experience as architects often think of the guidelines as something for the UI designers. In my view the ones to blame are the architects, and certainly not only the application architects. Any organization implementing IT systems involving humans should take a very serious look at the User Experience. And this starts with doing away with the notion of "the user". Because he or she really doesn't exist!

A good way of getting the discussions concerning user experience in the right direction is to create personas. In short personas are fictitious characters that are created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that will or might use an IT solution. Personas are said to be cognitively compelling because they put a personal human face on otherwise abstract data about users. When you carefully look around it will not be very difficult to describe and name the relevant user types.

But there is more about User Experience then just personas. Without going to elaborate here a lot about how architects could deal with the User Experience please take a look at Simon Guest's talk on this topic titled "Putting the User back into Architecture". I am not an advocate of Microsoft, but I like the framework Simon created. You can find his recorded talk at the Canadian Strategy Architecture Forum 2007 here.

In the first 10 minutes he presents the framework architects at Microsoft use, after that he goes in depth explaining this framework, often in in relation with Microsoft products. On a funny note: about 5 minutes into the talk he has the "mandatory crash" of their software: in this case PowerPoint. So much for User Experience ;-)

P.S. The example of a human "talking" to the IT systems using IM (Instant Messaging) is a very interesting concept. My bank currently allows it's internet banking customers to use Microsoft's IM to obtain balance and transaction information. Any question that can not be answered is offered to be passed on to the real people at the internet part of the bank. While it still is very simple it is definitely very elegant experience to get this information without having to login on the internet banking site.

© Peter Bodifée 2008. All rights reserved

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