Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mr. X and Dustin Curtis

Via a Tweet from @uxforward, I encountered Dustin Curtis's admonishment of American Airlines, the reply from a UX architect at (and Dustin's response to it).

I love the internet.

Anyway, I found this exchange to be fascinating. The main thing that resonated with me was Mr. X's statement:

But—and I guess here’s the thing I most wanted to get across—simply doing a home page redesign is a piece of cake. You want a redesign? I’ve got six of them in my archives. It only takes a few hours to put together a really good-looking one, as you demonstrated in your post. But doing the design isn’t the hard part, and I think that’s what a lot of outsiders don’t really get, probably because many of them actually do belong to small, just-get-it-done organizations. But those of us who work in enterprise-level situations realize the momentum even a simple redesign must overcome, and not many, I’ll bet, are jumping on this same bandwagon. They know what it’s like.


This reminds me of the book review I did on Robert Hoekman's "designing the obvious". In the review, I said, "The only major problem I had with the book, and it's not all that major, is that it was written with an assumption that bad design happens out of ignorance for many of the principles he is espousing. That people are not doing things the right way because they don't know the difference between the right way and the wrong way. Clearly, this is sometimes true, but I think it's the exception to the rule (at least it is the exception when there are professional usability people involved in the project... and the audience for the book seems to be professional usability people)."

To net it out -- coming up with a good design is the EASIEST part of creating a well-designed product. Hell, it's almost trivial.

Dustin thinks this is a cop-out. In a sense he's right - it's a cop-out from the perspective of American Airlines as a company, but it's not a cop-out from the perspective of Mr. X. American Airlines, like any large corporation, has to figure out how to deliver well-designed products in spite of the difficulties that come from being mammoth. But Mr. X wasn't excusing AA from responsibility and he wasn't saying that nothing could be done. He was just pointing out (far more politely than I would have) that's Dustin's belief that the problem with was that no one could tell good design from bad design was hopelessly naive.

Of course, Dustin's argument that the problem must be that AA's CEO lacks "taste" doesn't dispel the naivete charge. Dustin's heart is in the right place, but I think he really doesn't understand how large enterprises work.

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