Tools Posts

User Experience: About To Be Commoditized?

October 2, 2008 07:02 PM | Posted in: Enterprise , Information Architecture , Tools , User Experience (UX)

Reading about the recent release of SocialText 3 I was struck by the strong parallels between the defining characteristics of enterprise environments in 2003/2004, and the emerging public Web 2.0 landscape. The essential characteristics of many enterprise environments are:

These same attributes are emerging as the hallmarks of the public Web 2.0 landscape. This is how the three S's manifest for Web 2.0:

I think you can easily see the strong parallels. It's this similarity between the older enterprise environments and the emerging Web 2.0 environment that user experience practitioners, -- and especially anyone practicing information architecture -- should note.

Why? As I've written before, modularity is everywhere in this new environment, it's apparent at all layers of the information world, from utilities like processing power, to services, to the elements that make up the user experience. The effects of modularity in syndication, services, and social structures on developers and IT have been profound; practices, processes, organizational structures, and business models have all shifted in response.

This wave of change first affected the developers who build and work directly with code and systems. But inevitably, disciplines further up the stack are feeling the impact of this shift, though many of us (and I'm putting user experience in this class) may not know it yet.

How will we feel that impact? One obvious way is in the pressure to adopt agile and other modular product construction practices created by and for developers as the preferred way to structure user experience and design efforts. This is a mistake that confuses the different stages of software / digital product creation (as Alan Cooper explained well at Agile2008). Design is not construction, and shouldn't be treated as if it is. And one size fits all does not work when choosing the process and toolkit used for creating complex digital products, services, or experiences.

One result of this modularity rules all approach to user experience is the erosion of bounded or well-structured design processes that balance risk effectively for the various stages of design, and were meant to ensure the quality and relevance of the resulting products and experiences. Erosion is visible the trends toward compression or elimination of recognizable design concept exploration and usability verification activities in many design methods.

More immediately - in fact staring us right in the face, though I haven't seen mention of it yet in m/any user experience forums - is the growing number of situations wherein there's "No designer required".

Examples of this abound, but just consider this feature list for the Social Text 3 Dashboard:

If that's not specific enough, here's what comes out of the box, in the form of pre-built widgets:

No architect required for most people here... and this trend is everywhere.

And then there's the awesome spectre ofcommoditization. Listening to a friend describe the confusing experience of trying to select a short list of design firms for inclusion in an RFP made the linkage clear to me. I'll quote Weil's definition of commoditization from the paper referenced above, to make the point explicit.
Please recall that commoditization denotes the development of a competitive environment where:

Please note that I'm not implying user experience practitioners face overnight obsoletion.
But I am saying that I doubt our current disciplinary worldview and toolkit adequately prepare us for the realities of the new environment emerging so rapidly. Code, by contrast, is and always will be modular. (After all, that is the defining attribute of our alphabets.)

But user experience is holistic, and has to learn to build in its own way from these smaller pieces like a writer combining words and phrases. Eventually, you can create works of tremendous depth, richness, and sophistication; think of Ulysses by James Joyce, or the Mahabharata. These are richly nuanced experiences that are the result of working with modular elements.

My suggestion for one response to the oncoming wave of modularity and commoditization is to focus our value proposition in the creation of tools that other people use to define their individual experiences. In other words, shift our professional focus to higher layers of abstraction, and get into the business of defining and designing frameworks, networks, and systems of experience components. Practically, this will mean things like observing and defining the most valuable patterns arising in the use of systems of modular elements we design, and then advising on their use to solve problems. This is the direction common within enterprise environments, and in light of the appearance of public pattern libraries (Yahoo's UI), I think I see it happening within parts of the user experience community. I'm not sure it's happening fast enough, though.

I hoped to communicate some of these ideas in my talk on why frameworks are the future (at least for anyone practicing Experience Architecture) for the 2008 EuroIA Summit that just took place here in lovely Amsterdam. I'll post the slides shortly. In the meantime, what do you think? Is user experience ready for the modularized, enterprise-like environment of Web 2.0? How are you responding to these changes? Is commoditization even on your radar?

local tags: agile, commoditization, design, enterprise, frameworks, methods, modularity, practice, process, user_experience, web20

hi joe, i think we see here the same way of commoditization as it happens to the cms-technology at the beginning of year 2000. there where many companies that work in the filed of custom software, today they work on implementing standard products and customize only the really important modules.
from my point of view it's a great way to UX, cause no one likes to do work on points which are already solved by thousand others. and of cause no customer likes to spend money on this. so we can focus on the strategie - to achieve the goals of the site objectives and user needs. the UX-Worker can use the patterns where they fit and use the budget for the really tricky challenges. that makes more fun to the customer and the UX-Worker. best regards, marcel

Posted by: Marcel Zimmermann at October 7, 2008 4:45 AM

That's a strong historical parallel, Marcel - thanks for mentioning it. I see tension between practitioners of UX that comes in part from their very different backgrounds. User Experience has a strong Design component, and Design has strong roots in the cultural domain of Art. At the moment, the production model for Art is (mostly) one of individual creation of original works. This model of individual and original creation conflicts with the trends toward modularity and commoditization coming from what I'll call the business and technology domains.

Two questions for you:
Does this seem like a good picture of the situation?
What can UX do to resolve this tension?

Posted by: joe lamantia Author Profile Page at October 10, 2008 4:15 AM

Al Gore Wins The Nobel *Presentation* Prize...?

October 12, 2007 04:14 PM | Posted in: People , Tools

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Presentation Prize today.

Al Gore

Though I'm sad to say it, this latest round of Celebrity Information Design Death Match, pitting Information Visualization Guru Dr. Edward Tufte vs. presentation tools and their legions of droning slide shufflers goes too -

Presentation software (at least it's Keynote)...

<announcer voice>
Gore's Nobel Prize must truly be a bitter pill for the esteemed Dr. Tufte, whose extensive declamations on the evils of PowerPoint remain insightful and even amusing, but have been outflanked by Gore's combination of savvy presentation techniques, and repeated use of the famous "Earth's Environment Is About to Perish" flying scissorkick move.
</announcer voice>

Seriously: Aside from the environment (we fervently hope), the real winner of this year's Nobel Peace prize is effective storytelling that blends qualitative and quantitative messages to create a compelling visually supported narrative experience that clearly communicates complex ideas in an emotionally compelling package.

The scientists and Mr. Gore take quite different approaches to the climate changes. The committee has been a measured, peer-reviewed, government-approved statement focused on the most non-controversial findings, whereas Mr. Gore rails against a "planetary emergency."

Both messages -- however imperfect -- play their part, scientists said on Friday. The Nobel Prize "is honoring the science and the publicity, and they're necessarily different," said Spencer A. Weart, a historian at the American Institute of Physics and author of The Discovery of Global Warming, a recent book.

From Gore and U.N. Panel Win Peace Prize for Climate Work

Dr. Tufte says, "PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play - very loud, very slow, and very simple." Too often, Dr. Tufte is right: think about how many times in the last five years you've considered feigning a seizure or gastro-intestinal distress to escape a truly awful presentation.


Yet for some ideas - and perhaps the very biggest of audiences - 'the [school] play's the thing'. Loud, slow, and simple might be just the right rhetorical style for complex messages that require the broadest kinds of consensus. (If Gore had figured this out during the campaign in 2000, the world would certainly be a very different place today...)

And yet, despite Gore's pivotal role in shaping the Internet, a search for "al gore inconvenient truth" on the Slideshare website turns up - well - nothing that seems relevant in the first 10 results. There's likewise no slideware to be had at the official site for the movie. But rest assured Mr. Gore, we know the humble origins of your Nobel Prize and Oscar winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth lie in a mere slide show.

local tags: al_gore, climate_change, ecology, qualitative_quantitative, storytelling, tufte

Jumpchart Sitemap Service: 3 Months Free

October 11, 2007 12:52 PM | Posted in: Information Architecture , Tools

Jumpchart - the online sitemap service - is about to move from beta to subscription pricing.

Anyone who like to try it out, or who wants 3 free months of service should drop me a line to get an invite code.

Good luck to the Jumpchart team!

local tags: information_architecture, jumpchart, sitemap, tools

Intranet Review Toolkit Version 1.1

April 1, 2006 07:48 PM | Posted in: Tools

Congratulations to James Robertson and StepTwo Designs for releasing an updated version of the Intranet Review Toolkit, just before this year's IA summit in lovely Vancouver (obligatory flickr link).

Version 1.1 of the Intranet Review Toolkit includes a heuristics summary designed for quick use; it's based on a condensed version of the complete set of heuristics you may remember I offered a while back. StepTwo was kind enough to credit my modest contribution to the overall effort.

Other additions include a collaboration / community of use destination site

local tags: heuristics, intranets, tools, user_research

Intranet Review Toolkit: Quick Heuristics Spreadsheet

December 2, 2005 12:30 AM | Posted in: Information Architecture , Intranets , Tools

Update: Version 1.1 of the Intranet Review Toolkit is available as of 03/20/2006, and now includes a summary spreadsheet.

Thanks go to James Robertson for very gently reminding me that the licensing arrangements for the Intranet Review Toolkit preclude republishing it as a summarized form, such as the spreadsheet I posted earlier today. In my enthusiasm to share a tool with the rest of the community, I didn't work through the full licensing implications...

Accordingly, I'll be removing the spreadsheet from harms way immediately, while hoping it's possible to make it available in a more legally acceptable form.

Apologies to James and the rest of the Toolkit team for any unintended harm from my oversight.

local tags: heuristics, intranets, tools, user_research

New Web Service for Sparklines

June 27, 2005 03:57 PM | Posted in: Tools

From someone else named Joe, a free service that generates sparklines:

Now I can plot the truly disatisfying long-term performance of my 401ks using a convenient networked infrastructure service...

local tags: sparklines, tools, tufte, visualization

©2008 by Joe Lamantia :: joe [at]