Everyone has eyes, so we all know what good design is, right? I don't believe that is true. If that were true, we'd all be musicians if we can hear; we'd all be chefs because we can taste; we'd all be athletes if we had working legs. I think everyone has an instinct as to what is usable and what "works" for a design, but again, UX professionals have the experience of past projects and a few other factors:
- Just because you are a user, doesn't mean you think like a user (UX professionals have trained themselves to think like users)
- It's hard to manage priorities when you own the project and are responsible for representing the interest of 2 groups equally
- It's hard to own something and be objective about it
Just because you are a user, doesn't mean you think like a user
One of the challenges UX Professionals face on a daily basis, I think, is putting themselves into other people's shoes and trying to understand how the various groups will respond when they see what's on the screen. It's so easy to think how you would like to use a tool and what would be great features for you. However, at the end of the day, when you work as a product designer, you are not designing for yourself - you are designing for people who do not think like you.
User Experience types end up knowing quite a bit about psychology from running and attending testing sessions. These types of activities provide training so that UX Professionals can more easily think more about who is using the software and how those users will respond to the position of a feature or the color of a button (for exa,ple). This is a learned skill that happens over years of experience and practice. UX professionals also understand that if a feature is in question to keep or modify, they need to bring it to the users for testing. Sometimes a business owner will make a decision not to test based on their own experience and make a UX call. Sometimes this works; often this is a really bad decision because they are thinking as an advanced user - not as a general user.
The business owner is an advanced user of the product. They work with it every day. They were and are involved in creating the features. They have an intimate knowledge of how the product works. Most users of a product, well, they don't use it every day. They have surface knowledge of what the product does. Most users don't read instructions and want the product to be intuitive. If you use a product every day, you make a lot of assumptions for how it works. This is where testing is key to determine how users think, what motivates them, and what's intuitive for them. Users may be similar, but when it comes to familiarity with an application, that is an entirely different user group.
It's hard to manage priorities when you own the project and are responsible for representing the interest of 2 groups
UX Professionals represent the interests of the users. It's hard to represent the interest of the business and create a usable product when you are torn with thinking about timeline, budget, and what the business will get out of the final product. Sometimes, the needs of the users become secondary to making sure a product has all the features included that the business feels it needs for a successful launch. However, what a business REALLY needs for a successful product launch is a product that is universally accepted in the marketplace meaning that it is intuitive and useful. This is often pushed aside to have a feature go live.
I often will back away from a business decision to add a new feature or do some technical upgrade. From my perspective, these system needs have valid usability interests. The users are not going to use a product that has a slow load or response time, use incorrect or problematic data, or just doesn't work as expected. However, it is my role to present to the business what I see as needed for the user as well.
If a UX person owns the product, there is a risk that although the product will look great and function well, it may not always bring in revenue as expected or have some serious technical failings. If an engineer owns the product, sure it will work great and have phenomenal architecture, but will people figure out how to use it and want to use it? At the end of the day, the business really needs to own the final decision and judge what makes most sense to do from all angles - for revenue, for technology, for user experience. There really needs to be an objective product owner who has a vested interest in seeing a product get shipped that is successful - with a team definition of what "successful" means.
If a business owner isn't objective, it is very easy for the needs of the user to take a backseat to what's easy and cheap to implement - we can always develop to the "ideal" later (especially with Agile). Honestly, the success of your product depends on the user experience. You can't let that go or be compromised for cheaper implementations that users will find inferior.
It's hard to own something and be objective about it
Even if you have an ugly child, you always think your child is beautiful because it is yours. Your boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife is always attractive because that person is associated with you. The same is true with a product - if you have worked on it for many years, it's the best product around. Sure, you know its faults, but what you developed is awesome.
This is human nature and you can't go around it. Even designers and UX professionals do the same thing. After a while, a product owner will believe that he knows who is audience is - whether there has been focus groups or testing or not. It's just how ownership works.
And UX Professionals love their users - and they are an extension of themselves sometimes. In a way this is a good thing - people take ownership of the product or the user experience and go with it. The best part about it - UX Professionals want to always learn more about the users which means research and testing.
Sometimes a product manager can get a little - well - too involved in their own products. They forget to do research and are too familiar with the product. They start to take criticism of the product personally. Again, this is natural. Most consulting firms will move consultants from project to project every 6 months for this reason - it keeps things objective.
Usability is objective - either people can intuitively use a product or not. It's fairly objective - after 5 people review a product and if they can't figure it out - well - go back to the drawing board. Sometimes product managers won't want to have usability testing, believing that they know better. Well, no one knows the user better than the users themselves. Again, this all comes down to objectivity. It's not personal - except for the users.
For these reasons and a few others business owners should not double as UX experts. I believe that all points of view in a project need to be evenly weighed and considered and you can't do that if you are too focused on the technology, the budget, the UI. You need to be focused on what is shippable product. Then you get the best user experience.