In my new role with Firebrand, one of my focuses is the user experience (UX). This can be a nebulous, murky concept for those who aren’t used to approaching a project from the user’s perspective and considering what they go through when they use your product–navigating your website, brewing a cup of coffee with your coffeemaker, or selecting music from your mp3 player. UX is an essential part of design, but often it’s easier for the project stakeholders to ignore UX in the short game because it feels too fuzzy, too time consuming to consider how users think and feel. You often have to fight to be heard among programmers who just want to code it and quit it. Project managers can find it tempting to discount the importance of UX when it comes to divvying up project resources, because it all comes down to this question:
How do UX people measure burndown? And, really, why do we care?
…what UX designers offer that’s special is help building a vision for what the product can and should be. This is not a reductive “getting things done” approach. It’s a generative “what does this have the potential to be” kind of approach. A good UX designer should encourage the team to ask that question, facilitate a process that brings the whole team along in answering it, and then make those answers tangible, doable, and, yes, a little bit pretty. (Jeff Patton, who is one of the strongest and most coherent voices for Agile + UX unity, has more to say on the importance of the designer as facilitator over on his blog, Agile Product Design.) Basically, I’m talking about the opposite of a burndown. Dare I say it? A design flareup!