December 2006 Archives

How the Other Half Live

--- Originally published on the Adaptive Path Blog ---

Last week Todd Wilkens and I did our two-day Beyond Best Practices training for a big, multi-national corporation. We spend a lot of time in that workshop talking about the future, the types of changes and affects user experience professionals can have on their projects and companies. We talk about methods and examples and ways folks in UX can bring about the change they'd like to see in their organizations.

One of the attendees came up to me during a break and asked me a simple question. She said, "what do you do, when after a re-org, someone comes in and says 'can't you just put an image there, and change this text, and oh, re-label the global nav to be this instead?'" She said this is a constant battle, where they are forced to defend their position as user experience experts to anyone in the marketing department who has "done web stuff before" and has a new, better way to do things.

I spoke to her about the need of defining roles, of picking battles, of creating a record of success that proves her decisions are good decisions with positive outcomes. I spoke about the need to channel the excitement and energy into something that will support her in her efforts to build a user-centered site. I spoke of the need of having executive support behind her that can back up her decisions. But I still can't help but feel that I let her down, that I could have helped her more.

Talking with her, it brought back memories of my days at PeopleSoft. We were always putting out fires, being reactive instead of proactive, and constantly fighting against being treated as order takers by the product marketers. The PeopleSoft web team did a great job of proving that we knew the business of the web, and eventually we earned respect for our knowledge and expertise. But that respect took a long time to build, and there were a lot of battles that we fought, many of which were lost (being forced by VPs to call "Training" "Education Services" comes to mind).

Working at Adaptive Path, I've had the luxury of not having to deal with these types of project issues anymore. Sure, we have our share of issues, but clients come to us when they are ready to work with us. And if we push them to do something they aren't ready for, well, as much as we may not like it they just don't do it. But we don't have to live day-to-day with the compromises of a corporate site. As external consultants we have a different relationship to the stakeholders and business owners. We are brought in for our expertise, we (usually) don't have to fight to prove it.

It reminded me that for all that we are doing to push the field forward, there are still a lot of folks in the trenches, fighting the good fight over whether to change the link from "training" to "education services." And damn, I'm glad that it isn't me anymore.

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