When Alan Cooper delivered the opening keynote at Interactions08 this
morning, I was once again struck by how sensible his view is. As I
understood his core argument, it was:
1. We know that the best interactive products are not the first to
market but the ones that have the best quality design.
2. Business managers often fail to understand this because they do not
know how to manage "creatives" among whom he numbers both interaction
designers and programmers.
3. The typical business approach is to develop requirements and then
build the product. A better approach would be to have an interaction
design team design the product concept and pass it on to the programming
team. The programming team would then use the design as input to its own
technical planning phase reaping a more focused and efficient build
4. Since business management does not recognize the importance of this,
it is up to the interaction designers to begin the organizational change
process. We would accomplish this by striking an alliance with the
programmers who will value us as fellow craftspeople. This alliance
would help transform the way products are developed.
The environment that Alan describes is typical of large, non-software
corporations whose IT departments continually struggle to stay in
alignment with their business counterparts. Those who work in such
corporations will probably resonate to this description. Those who work
in Web 2.0 software companies or digital agencies may have a very
I agree with Alan that design makes products great. But being first to
the marketplace, means you designed your product without the benefit of
examining, critiquing and learning from existing products and the
reactions of users to them. Given that useful input it is not surprising
that later entries improve on the initial ones.
I've long advocated that that it is essential to design the product
through an IxD process that largely precedes technical planning. TRhat's
a great goal. But I am less optimistic than Alan about how easily we
will be able to create an alliance with programmers. A recent survey by
Information Week found that only 5% of IT people thought that Web 2.0
was of any value to their companies. Yikes! We still have a long way to
go to educate the technical community. And I'm not sure that we won't
have another hurdle to cross in convincing the Project Management
Institute as well.
I believe the lack of management support for creativity and craft comes
less from management's being stuck in old style industrial thinking in a
post-industrial society, as Alan suggests, then from unrelenting
pressure from senior management. The price that executives pay for their
substantial compensation is constant pressure to deliver profit to
shareholders. That is pretty much their only focus and it cascades down
to all management. To shift the way that products are managed, we need
to position design activity as a revenue generator and profit enhancer
and make that case to senior management.
That is one reason that I've been arguing for the need to explain our
value in simple terms. There is still a lot of selling to do.