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Victims of Our Own Success?

Duane Degler
New thoughts relating to previous ISPI article:  A Role By Any Other Name: the Availability of Skills in Project Teams

A wonderful transition is taking place. Increasingly, the teams I work with value the skills that translate user needs into effective design; skills that come from a user performance design perspective.

Demand for our skills is outstripping supply. Having gained a seat at the project table, we have to say “yes” when people ask us to sit down, or we risk losing that valuable seat. Yet there is a shortage of skilled, experienced designers – and I suspect that will continue, or get worse before it gets better. But why, and what can we do about it?

Truly talented user performance designers are neither born nor made, they grow. Many of the skills of software analysis and design are able to be taught, but “user-centeredness” is a value system that enhances those skills based on experience and involvement with users in real working situations. People who are “user-centered” and “performance-centered” come from many disciplines, and act in many different roles. Ideally, user performance should be the goal of every member of a project team, and this increasingly becomes the case. That is why project teams and managers look to us to play an increasingly important role. But it needs to become a more integrated – and shared – role.

Team member and stakeholder education has always been a key component of our work. It would be wonderful if, as a part of our success, people understood what we do and could even do it for themselves. But demand, not understanding, is traditionally the outcome of success. The educational element of the work remains, even as the day-to-day workload increases. The refrain “more, better, and faster!” threatens the quality of what we do, but it also provides an incentive to innovate within the design community.

There are still no simple panaceas. We need to continue to share our insights actively. Some ideas being pursued include:

  • “Do it yourself” tools for users and other project team members to gain more user-centered insights out of common analysis activities

  • Developing task-oriented pattern languages and reusable personas to speed up analysis

  • Integrating models, methodologies and skills (such as the growing relationship between UCD the Unified Modeling Language – UML)

  • Rapid usability templates, particularly using the Internet to gain insights from hundreds, rather than a few, members of a user population

  • Resource-balancing on projects, to allow inexperienced designers to gain practical experience in supportive environments

  • Encouraging intuition and more subtle talents as vital skills in the design process

Maybe growing new designers remains as simple – and as impossibly complex – as that age-old practice of apprenticeship. By working alongside performance-focused designers who have honed their skills, insights, common sense and intuitions, both apprentice designers and other team members learn and refine the craft of creating usable designs. The best designers have gathered their experiences in the world, and then continue to learn in collaboration with talented and dedicated team members from many disciplines.

Go back to the associated article:
     A Role By Any Other Name: the Availability of Skills in Project Teams


Copyright, Reuse and Citation

The content of this article may be referenced with the appropriate citation information included (see below). The entirety of the article must not be reproduced without written communication with ISPI (www.ispi.org).   Also, I would appreciate your notifying me if you intend to use these concepts or images, as I am curious to know where they prove valuable.

To cite the material, please include the following information. I recommend the format: 

Degler, Duane (2002). Victims of Our Own Success?  An update to the article A Role by Any Other Name: the Availability of Skills in Project Teams. Performance Improvement (EPSS Special Edition). ISPI, 38(7), August 1999. Online: www.ipgems.com/writing/rolearticle.htm.


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