A couple nights ago I saw Alan Cooper present his Interaction08 Keynote, An Insurgency of Quality, for a local audience.
His presentation is quite rambly, but I think the heart of the thesis was:
- best-to-market always beats first-to-market
- quality takes time
- interaction designers are craftspeople
- programmers are craftspeople
- business management is optimized for an industrial economy; they don’t know how to handle a post-industrial economy
- interaction designers and programmers should join forces and make great things, and success will follow
Alan makes a lot of good points in his talk (many of which we make at Adaptive Path, such as how thoughtful design allowed iPod and Palm to beat predecessors, the value of distinguishing between design engineering and production engineering, and the value of the Quick Win), but he lost me when he advocated ignoring the business folks because they simply won’t get it. Not just “don’t” get it, but “won’t” get it. He seems to think that business folks are wired in such a way that they can’t handle the post-industrial economy. He also believes that attempts to quantify business value of post-industrial work is a fool’s errand.
He basically told the audience what they want to hear, but not what they need to hear.
I tried to respond in a comment/question, arguing that the IxDs and programmers need to join forces with savvy business folks who can champion their cause. And that IxDs and programmers rarely express any interest in being held accountable, and that’s why business people have the power — they’re willing to put their butt in the sling. He misunderstood my comment about accountability and construed it as a comment about return on investment, and he got all rambly about quantification. Accountability is not necessarily about ROI — in fact, many business folks that ROI and NPV are typically just tools to CYA. But, what we saw in our 2003 research on ROI and User Experience is that the act of making a rigorous connection between design interventions and driving real business value (however that value is defined in that organization) leads not just to business success, but often better, and more useful design.
More than anything else, this talk exposed the interaction design profession’s neuroses around dealing with the larger world of business, and I suspect Alan’s frustration in dealing with “business people” has lead him to want to neglect them altogether. He is fortunate to be in a position where he can do that… But I fear if anyone were to try to follow his suggestions they’d find themselves marginalized and angry as all their brilliance goes for naught.