Thursday, June 21, 2007

From UPA: The Future of Usability

A colleague sent me a link to the proceedings for the latest UPA conference that was held in Austin, Texas last week. One of the items was a panel discussion entitled, "Looking in the Crystal Ball: Future of Usability". I particularly enjoyed the charts by Daniel Szuc from Apogee. One of his charts asks the question, "Who/What do we want to be?" followed by these bullets:

  • User Tester v Designer (or both)
  • Closer (issues) v Opener (innovations)
  • Loner v Collaborator
  • Critic v Creator
  • Silo v holistic
Good questions, because other than the third bullet, the answers are not clear. Well, I have clear opinions on each one, but as an industry the answers are not clear. For example, the last question might seem obvious... but one of the panel speakers (Robert Schumacher from User Centric, Inc.) warned about the danger of diversity and the cheapening of our skills by being a blend of so many different disciplines, while advocating for the need for a clear UX certification process to separate the real professionals from the, um, amateurs. Basically, Schumacher wants to create more crisply defined UX roles because he believes that the "holistic" blending of our field with every field we come into contact with cheapens our value. He has a valid point, though I think it's a bit like trying to prop up local shops by legislating against Wal-Mart - it might be a noble goal, but it's ultimately useless because it fights against reality. We need to make things work in spite of the blending of roles, because the there is no other alternative, IMO.

Anyway, in the spirit of the exercise, here's a few of my thoughts on the future of usability, in easy-to-read bullet form:
  • In the category of "Well, duh!", specialization within the field will increase. One specialization that I think will emerge into a common category is the "Designer Developer" - not a developer who learns some design skills, but a UXer who learns some development skills.
  • Focus on user testing will decrease over time.
  • The importance of patterns and particularly patterns-enabled development tools (basically 4GL GUI tooling) will increase. Creating good design is too hard today... there will be a lot of incentives in the near future to make good design easier to implement.
  • There's going to be a lot of drama in the community in the near future as gurus begin to really differentiate... and think the other gurus are full of crap. And say it out loud. I think it'll be a good thing for our profession, but it'll be ugly while it happens.
  • Returning to the "Well, duh!" category, the UX community is going to experience an explosion of vibrancy thanks to blogs and wonderful article-based sites like Boxes & Arrows, A List Apart, UXmatters, and others. I think there's plenty of room for growth in this area.
  • Because of the previous bullet, the importance of ridiculously expensive professional organizations who publish ridiculously expensive professional journals will decrease... though not fast enough for my taste.

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