Gerry Gaffney:

First of all, I have to start with a confession. Bless me, Fathers, I haven’t done my homework. I’ll have to extemporize a little bit, but I have thought about what topic I’d like to talk about, but I haven’t sort of written it out extensively, so you’ll have to bear with me a little bit.

But what I did want to talk about was the attitudes that Dev teams and organizations have towards UX and users now in comparison to what it was a few years ago and what the implications might be. And you know, Gerry McGovern, you’ve written a lot about the fact that in the old days, you know, going back 30 years or something, computers were expensive and people were cheap and I think a lot of the attitudes to users emerged from that time.

And we had, you know, a culture of almost, of denigrating users and you’d hear expressions like people referring to a DEU meaning dumb end user and things like that. And it was sort of quite amusing to talk about things like that. But there was a serious note as well. I remember working for a very large petrochemical company and they had installed some software that users had trouble with. They went to head office and they said, look, our users have got a trouble using your software. And the producers of the software said, “Get new users.” So that kind of attitude really did exist. And I think… people say a developers were user hostile, I don’t think developers were user hostile. I think at the entire organizations were user hostile. But it was apparent in developers as well. I think, you know, they were kind of very much separated from users and they didn’t have the user input that they have now.

I remember doing some consulting work with a company in Melbourne. And I was there for about eight or nine months, just on a part-time basis. And when I was leaving a guy called Art came up to me, he was a developer and he said, “You know, when you started here, I thought that UX was bullshit.” And I said, “What do you think now Art?” And he says, “Mostly bullshit.”

You know, that was pinnacle of my career I think. And that was the start of a trend. That was the, when things started to change and you know, the executive level of course bought into the whole idea of user experience because the bottom line effects became apparent once, you know, things like the iPhone came along and the liberalization of the technology to the extent that it was available to everyone and suddenly technology was cheap and people were expensive. So the whole equation was turned on its head.

I think you do still get bastions of old-school techno-supremacists, but most Dev teams nowadays, or at least the ones that I’ve come across, tend to have a firm belief in the necessity and the value of UX, even if it doesn’t necessarily resonate with them individually. And you know, there’s a whole story I guess about whether or not developers tend to be good at interacting with customers or not. And I think there’s a lot of mythology about that to be honest. But you know, there might be a certain grain of truth in it that people who are drawn to, to coding and to being developers are not necessarily drawn to, you know, the softer aspects I guess of user research and the like. But I think this acknowledgement of the importance of user research is absolutely fantastic.

Although a couple of caveats around that, sometimes I think it’s a kind of a UX Lite. It’s the perception you can get a small number of uses to come into your company, use your product or service and that that’s enough. So can still end up with a shallow or an inadequate understanding of your users and their needs. I think in fact a focus on bringing users in can work against the need to go out into the field and do the in-depth research. And that, as we all know, is really, that that’s the gold standard, right? If you’re not going out into the field, into the users’ context and doing research there, then you’re not getting the maximum value out of your UX efforts. And at the other extreme, if you like and, I hesitate to even say it, but I think sometimes organizations get too enamoured with UX, you know, they come to see that UX has has provided really good benefits for them and they’ve got better products and services that they’re developing. And then it becomes, let’s go do the UX, let’s go and do UX. You want to say, hang on guys, that’s enough UX. Let’s go on, you know, develop some products and get something out into the marketplace.

Well, what do you guys think of that? My little spiel?

Gerry Scullion:

I agree. Without being too rude, I never worked in the 80s or 90s. So my experience is, is the 2000s, but, what do you think has changed? Like what drove that change? Obviously the presence and the, you know, the explosion of the Internet in the 90s, you know, giving the power to the consumer to, to raise their voices a lot louder than they would have been able to do in the 80s. Am I right, first of all, and also what do you think has changed and what’s enabled that change?

Gerry Gaffney:

I think Gerry McGovern, the philosopher is the one down to that.

Gerry Scullion: That’s the newsletter.

Gerry McGovern:

I’m reading a book now called Valley of Genius about the history of Silicon Valley and, if you look at the history of computers as well, they started off as military projects, but then they were very much geeky, scientific type of machines and as you said, extremely expensive. And there was this sort of rare atmosphere around them and there was PhDs of engineering or computing using them. And a type of culture evolved and developed there, which was very much about the impressiveness of the, intelligence of the people involved. And they were, they were created for each other. And then when the new personal computer industry began in the late 70s, it initially really kicked off in the business community with spreadsheets and stuff like that and it, so it wasn’t until later that really the consumer, the more ordinary consumer come into the world of using computing.

So I think partly that is a little bit of the lag, but then you got this embedded culture of, snobbery as happens in every sector or group that almost making it easy is beneath me… But then that happens in all sorts of sectors. But then parallel to all that was there was the gaming industry, you know, which drove a lot of innovation as well. So people were focused on, you know, the users are very much in the gaming industry. Generally the PC market or the original computer markets were very elitist and had a very elitist attitude of the world and looked down on people who were not engineers and stuff like that. So they didn’t really have the idea and for quite a while it was not accepted that an ordinary person should even use a computer because as you said at the beginning, Gerry, they were so expensive.

There was this feeling that, oh, this is far too valuable to be given to an ordinary sod in the street, you know, them writing a letter to their children, you know, we need to use this thing for serious statistical research. So I think that embedded into a type of a culture that, and often that early culture is then very hard to change and it attracts similar minded people so that it’s been hard to change that. But you’re right, Gerry, it’s definitely changing for the better. And what you said as well, it can go to the other extreme. It’s always a balance of, you still got to get stuff done, but you got to know what’s the right thing to do as much as possible.

Gerry Scullion:

I guess going back to Gerry Gaffney’s point of development, I’ve had great experience working with developers. But do you think it’s just the fact that we’ve been present in the industry, you know, a lot longer like, say the last 10, 15 years, you know, the UX world, you know, businesses have matured and they realize that they need this service that’s been missing, that gap has been missing. And just because of the presence of designers amongst the teams that are developing these new products and services, they’ve just had to figure it out and work with us. Do you think it’s just been, through symbiosis? 

Gerry Gaffney:

I think, yeah. And necessity as well, Scully, you know, I was talking to Cameron Rogers from Seek recently and we were talking about this thing about, you know, suddenly you were accepted. You know, you went from having to explain UX and justify it to being accepted and then you suddenly realize that, oh wow, now we’ve actually got to justify our place at the table.

Gerry McGovern:

And you know, the signs were there early on as well, like the, the first computer show in San Francisco, I don’t know, there was 10 or 12 companies exhibiting and Apple was one of them. And you know, I think they had the Apple II, they were just launching the Apple II and the Apple II looked cool, it looked nice and the other ones look like boxes you’d find in a garage, you know, left there for two years. And people were just saying, the Apple II, this is going to move. Well, it also had good software. It was technically better, but it was more usable. And the ones who got it early on, the marriage of usability and actually technical strength and capacity are the ones that triumphed in the long term.

Gerry Gaffney:

It’s a good place to be. I think where we’ve got the, you know, UX is now so well accepted in the vast majority of organizations.

Gerry Scullion:

It is. Yeah, absolutely. It’s brilliant that that’s the case. I have experienced actually a couple instances since returning home of developers not really wanting to engage with UX, just in my day to day role of working in the industry. And it was really like shocking because I hadn’t seen it for a very long time. I remember I did a pitch and one of the guys was like, “What is this UX and Service Design  thing?” And I was like, it’s, you know, we’re going to help design the product and the service and we’re going to complete research and, “Sure already got our technical requirements done.” And I was like, right, so, how did you write them? And he was like, what do you mean? We wrote them in the business. So I was like, why are you looking to speak to me? You know, what’s your hope? And it’s the misunderstanding and miscommunication and the understanding of design. It was more like, we need you to do the screens…

Gerry Gaffney:

The colours.

Gerry Scullion:

Yeah. We need you to look at the technical requirements and we need you to translate those into interfaces. So it’s that maturity that, you know… unfortunately, it was an older developer, so I don’t mean to play into that stereotype, but, it was an older developer…

Gerry Gaffney:

Watch who you’re talking to now, Scully!

Gerry Scullion:

I knew where this was going, I’m treading on thin ice here. 

Gerry McGovern:

They were over 70, were they?

Gerry Scullion:

They were over 70. Well I’m talking to you at 35. I’m only joking. And like that, that was one instance where I had, when I hadn’t experienced for quite a while, so it was insightful.

Gerry Gaffney:

Anyway I think it’s gotten a lot better. I think it’s good to have a topic where we’re not complaining about stuff. So that’s my contribution for what it’s worth.