Periodically I see mail from people looking for a job. Often it’s more of a general call for work (rather than a specific request for work at our little startup). And often, the people who are calling for work declare their undying passion for user-centered design. They go on to talk about how understanding the user is the most important factor in creating great software, and how vociferous their support is of said user during the development process.
I don’t care what your role is (i.e. developer, designer, tester, etc.). Everyone should be a user advocate. Everyone should have a common bar for the caliber and quality of the software the team is delivering. Everyone should understand what it means for their end product to be “on brand”. And everyone should be able to balance that with the realities of the business and software development.
Declaring yourself as the “user advocate” can lead to four difficulties:
- It assumes the worst case by default – nobody else on the team us a user advocate (which of course they should be).
- It pre-supposes that you come into the team better at something than any of your new teammates. (Likely, you don’t.)
- It absolves you of other responsibilities and perspectives on the team (or at the very least gives others the impression that you’ve absolved yourself).
- And worst of all, it can absolve other team members of being user advocates in their own right.
Until every single member of an organization (from development, to sales, to tech support and beyond) is focused on the end-to-end customer experience of a product (whether it’s delivering software or gas) the experience is never going to be great.
I recognize that a significant number of software development teams are still technology rather than customer-focused (whether they realize it or not). I also recognize that a non-trivial number of the teams who declare themselves “user-focused” are no such thing at all (at least in practice if not intent). That said, while I may be out of touch with the rest of the software development world, to me when someone declares their passion for users as a software developer it’s like humans declaring their passion for oxygen. Yeah, we’re all big fans.