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I came across an interesting discussion on the Academia StackExchange website about why talented scientist write horrible code.

To summarize some of the main discussion points (I suggest reading it because it provides some user-centric perspectives as well):

  1. They don't know any better - no one teaches or tells them so the chances of coming up with something good is slim
  2. The care factor is not high - they are trying to solve problems, not write software (although writing the software is a way to solve the problem... at least compared to getting other people to solve it for them)
  3. The practical aspect is more important than usability or aesthetics

I still can't help but think the first point is the one that is critical, because it is the same issue that UX designers battle with when convincing management of the ROI on better design. But when a person doesn't have a overall view of the entire product lifecycle it is difficult for them to see how investing the time and effort is worth it in the long run.

Do people see the same issue in areas outside of IT with user experience and usability as well? I suggest that in any types of software application design UX should always be a priority, it just takes getting the message through to the people involved.

I think of people who design games and toys as being one of these areas, because it is about entertaining the user and providing a positive experience. Has anyone worked on non-IT related projects that also emphasized the importance of UX?

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I think the same issue applies to builders and buildings.

Architects seem to have a similar kind of role in the building industry with a training which also involves the aesthetics of a building and 'usability' for the user - as well as knowledge of the actual construction process.

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    I love using architects as an analogy, but for slightly different reasons. SOME architects are cross-trained. They not only appreciate the user's needs and aesthetics, but design a solution that accommodates the realities of how it will be built. Then there's the pure aesthetic architects, who design it as they see fit, and then hope the engineers can actually figure out how to build it. The latter, alas, often produces stunning visuals and leaky roofs.
    – DA01
    Jul 28, 2014 at 19:20
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I believe in any UX work, the critical message to relate is the value. This value also has to relate to the product owners on a personal level.

I recently worked on a UX Redesign of a software package that was 10 years old. It was originally built as an .asp 1.0 desktop application and ported over to the web. I thought it would be a relatively simple process as it was in obvious need of help from a UX standpoint.

However I was very stunned to find that almost all improvements were met with debate. It would seem the team that used the product was very attached to it as is. However after conducting stakeholder interviews I found that almost every user had a different way of using the system and relied heavily on work-around methods to accomplish tasks. Also many end users were not happy with the product.

Any believer of the "3 clicks" paradigm would have been horrified at the number of steps users had to incorporate to accomplish simple tasks. Still the product owners were reluctant to make changes, even when it was obvious they were losing market share based on these issues.

It wasn't until I showed them how UX could make their own jobs easier. Giving the product owners more time to focus on other tasks, that they saw the value. This also had an adverse affect as they began to make the product more suited to the product owners and less for the end users.

To answer your question, yes there are instances outside of academia where UX is undervalued. In my opinion the best way to motivate designers towards better UX is to help them find the value. However, take precautions to ensure the value is not based on personal reasons. Although those are the ones that tend to generate the most motivation.

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  • I once was involved in a project involving a make-over of a 15 year old mainframe application. A design decision had been made to completely mimick the design (or lack of?) including all the hot-keys located on the F-keys ...what a mess. But that was what the user wanted, as it was all they knew. Once you make a design decision you also commit to a certain evolutionary trajectory of innovation that makes it immensely hard to do radical redesigns. Imagine how hard it is to get people to adopt for instance the DVORAK keyboard layout?
    – zkwsk
    Jul 28, 2014 at 21:44
  • On this project, they had function key's but since only one developer knew them and had not shared the information with the product owners, they were not kept. Lucky day indeed. So how did the project turn out? I'm trying to picture this project and I'm seeing a html page mimicking a green screen application.
    – Johnny UX
    Jul 29, 2014 at 15:57
  • Actually, the screen was grey in this case. The application was delivered to the customer, but after being in a test-phase for 4 years it was sacked completely! :o
    – zkwsk
    Jul 29, 2014 at 16:32
  • @funkylaundry ouch! I hope you've moved onto better things now :D
    – Michael Lai
    Jul 29, 2014 at 22:56
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I've worked with developers that have no care about UX at all and others that take great pride and focus in it.

I think it simply comes down to what the engineer is responsible for. To use perhaps a bad analogy, a plumber doesn't really care what sink you're picking out or even where you place the sink. Their job is is simply to make sure the pipes connect to it. That's their job and what they want to focus on. A general contractor, on the other hand, they are concerned about the overall UX as it all has to work together in a pleasing manner.

As such, I'm not a fan of blaming developers for bad UX. If IT is producing bad UX, it's likely more of a cultural issue within the organization more than anything.

Outside of talking specifically about developers, there's the issue that both IT and Business (and marketing) often think in term of features rather than experience. They like having a bulleted list of 20 features to be launched in 3rd quarter and that's a) their goal b) what they will be judged for. Alas, UX can also take a back seat in that scenario.

For UX to be a priority, it has to be a priority in the organization's overall philosophy. It doesn't matter if UX is coming out of IT, or Business, or marketing, or wherever, but what matters is the company recognizes it as a key piece to the overall puzzle.

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