Saturday, November 20, 2004

The end of usability culture?

Over at Digital-Web, Dirk Knemeyer wrote two articles under the title "The End of Usability Culture" (1 and 2) and received quite some attention.

I have some issues with his use of the word design and how designers will be the people that take control away from usability experts.

I almost agree when Dirk says "On both a disciplinary level and within our project teams, we need big thinkers who lead the exploration of this exciting time and medium." But it is the "big thinkers" part (Dirk also uses "visionary") where I think he is wrong.
Dirk seems to equate design with innovation. In the first article he says:
"Design [..] is a sensibility that is often visionary and is about seeing beyond the surface."
In the second he poses that:
"we need to be led by the people who both understand Web design and are able to innovate in the Web space."
But why this focus on making something different? What's wrong with simply making a difference? Because, in my opinion, that is what design is all about: specifying something that fulfills a purpose and thereby making a difference. I do not think that it must be the creatives, the innovaters-for-the-sake-of-it, that should take control. So, who should?

Dirk and I agree that a design project needs a design champion; someone who defends the solution's central concepts and manages those aspects of the project that deal with transforming these concepts into an implementation. We need people with a wide-angle view of the project.
Dirk seems to call this person a Web Designer who, according to the second article, should have a focus on understanding web technologies, although his first article seemed to lean towards a preference to visual design. At my former company we called this person the Concept Designer which in my opinion is more specific. From my article on the T-model you can guess that I would call them User Experience designers.


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