Keynote presentation at Documentation and Training West (May 6-9, 2008) in Vancouver, BC -- http://www.doctrain.com/west
Information system designers with a “user experience” perspective strive to create applications and services that people find enjoyable, unique, and responsive to their needs and preferences. These designers use techniques and tools from the disciplines of human-computer interaction, anthropology, and sociology such as ethnographic research and the user-centered design approach to specify the desired experience for the customer or consumer. An emerging theme in this design philosophy is that the user experience is in part determined through “co-creation” when users add content, comments, or links to that contained in the application or service. This emphasis discounts the contribution of the processes and activities that are not explicitly part of the user experience.
In contrast, designers with a systems and data or process analysis mindset follow different goals and methods. They strive for efficiency, robustness, scalability, and standardization. These design goals require identification and analysis of information requirements, information flows and dependencies, and feedback loops. Concepts and techniques from information architecture, data and process modeling, industrial engineering, and software development define this approach.
Given these vastly different design perspectives and goals, it isn’t surprising that there is often little collaboration and communication between the user experience designers and systems analysts. Whether it is for organizational reasons, for ideological ones, or just because it is hard to work effectively with someone who thinks so differently even when you try - the outcome is the same --- tensions, conflicts, and sub-optimal design.
I don’t believe that these tensions and conflicts between user experience and systems analysis are intrinsic or fundamental. But to avoid them, we need a more comprehensive and robust approach to designing information-intensive applications and services that combines aspects of these “front end” and “back end” approaches. I’ve called this emerging design discipline “Document Engineering,” and its essence is a set of analysis and design methods that treat the interactions, information requirements and preferences associated with the customer or consumer in an abstract way so they can be compared and integrated with those associated with automated or computational actors. This more abstract approach more naturally encourages an end-to-end systems design philosophy and makes it much easier to consider alternative service system designs. These might involve moving some functions or interactions from the user experience to the invisible back stage (or vice versa), replacing or augmenting a person-to-person interaction with self-service or eliminating it completely through automation, substituting one service provider for another (e.g, through outsourcing) to improve quality or reduce cost, and so on.