Thoughts / Unified conundrum of web design Intention / October 17, 2010

More and more, I find myself wondering, and lately pondering, about what’s wrong with my job. More and more the feeling points not to the job itself, but at the way it is managed. More and more I find that reassuring, as I know my job, that of a ‘User Experience Designer’, as my work business card says, is, more and more, a necessity within my realm, that of ‘Web Designer’, as my personal business card says.

There’s something that I can still find valid on that User Experience title, and every time it gets closer to what I always felt Architecture was about: creating experiences. (I won’t talk directly about the ‘experience creation’ paradigm validity, as I already explored in a previous article, and I would assume to an extent it is what we web/experience designers, and architects, do).

As anyone that has sat with the dare intention to create a set of rules that try to satisfy a wide possibility for mindsets, the most crucial point is to maintain credibility within the user. Credibility in this case is often conveyed by repeatedly signaling directions in a concise way, for the user to be able to read them as signs, like in motorways and hotels, and be able to decide which paths will stimulate or satisfy their own experience.

In order to create these directions, anyone that is involved in the project needs to be pointing at the same goals, and, moreover, be talking the same language, not amongst each other, but with the user, the persona, the customer, you name it.

Lately I’ve found the biggest potholes in this road to fulfilling a coherent, unified user experience framework to be a lack of agreement from various team members on the project’s main goal.

Our (the company I work at) structure, as many others I’ve seen, is divided into disciplines each tackling a different piece of the project. We have executives, visual designers, media strategists, interaction designers, developers, testers, marketers, account managers, technical producers and project managers.

All of these departments have a different history that trails and defines their approach to the project. Thus, oftentimes, each of these departments have a different personal objective: social media wants people to connect and share value, interaction designers want to make it easy, visual designers want to engage and enjoy, developers want it to work, testers want it to be bulletproof, marketers want it to sell, account managers want it to please the client, and executives want it to stand out and bring more clients towards a company that delivers and satisfies every possible need the best way possible.

After a thorough look, one can realise those agendas don’t necessary collide. A great project might satisfy each and every one of those premises. So then why sometimes (oftentimes) too many do not?

I’m inclined to think there’s lack of an overall vision that unifies them all. Or to put it in geek enough terms, the lack of  “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”<a href=”#quote1″><sup>1</sup></a>.

Oftentimes, what projects lack is an unified, agreed upon main objective. It is here where I see the user experience being brought out and exposed to the user. There has to be a place in the process where a goal, a set of objectives to be met by every proposition have to be defined.

I know by experience in the architectural world, that role is covered by the head architect for the project. This person takes care of the group bringing the project under one solid unified vision (in the best of cases, of course). However, in the architectural world, any head architect is a laureate of architecture that has made his road up through the architectural ladder. I know this head architect is a person that roughly knew how to lay pipes, calculate structure and place standardised windows and doors, define parking lot spaces while deciding column situation, and define how the façade should look like. This person knows the trade enough to assert a continuum of all these disciplines into a unified vision for a project, while being directly advised (and admonished) by a team of experts in each category and industry.

I know by experience that in the nascent conglomerate of what we humbly call web design, all the concurrent disciplines come from different realms and backgrounds, and were circumstantially summoned. Hence the differing agendas.

That explains to me the (scaled) success of small shops and studios in tackling better than anyone else the complexity of the task with a most coherent vision and delivery.

There comes now the point where I’m utterly jaded about this line of thought, as I don’t find myself but in the position to state that what we need is more web designers in an unifying, strategical position. Unfortunately, even by being a fine extrapolation from architecture, it doesn’t seem as the right strategy, as it is retrograde and propelled by hindsight.

If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it.

<blockquote><a name=”quote1″>1.</a> This quote from <a href=”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077869/”>The Lord of the Rings</a> is particularly fit as “in the darkness” well exemplifies what user experience design might be about: a shot in the dark at what people will enjoy and use.</blockquote>