I am, and have long been, on a mission to democratize the use and creation of digital products, to create an equitable arena in which all can be heard. To liberate people from the tyranny of obtuse interactions with the digital world.
As the boundary line between digital products and the physical world begins to blur, fundamental questions about the purpose, scope, and ethical use of those products become even more challenging. Society cannot ignore these concerns, except at its peril. How did we arrive at this juncture? Will business, industry, and academia take a stand for ethical practices? Will we, the users and creators of digital technologies, demand our rights? In a better world, the market would meet its constituents in an honest exchange.
“The goal of user-centrism, a form of social justice, seemed achievable even if it already looked like a hard sell.”
Interface Guru was founded in December 1999 with the goal of bringing more valuable user experiences to the planning and design of digital projects. At the time, increasing the focus on users – on people’s real needs – seemed possible. After five years as an Internet professional, I realized that wayfinding structure and content design was taking a back seat to endless discussions about the logo.
The goal of user-centrism, a form of social justice, seemed achievable even if it already looked like a hard sell. So I cast my lot with the web’s confluence of technology, design and communication. The medium felt completely natural to me, and I was especially attracted to the oft-cited power of the Internet to “level the playing field.”
Once digital became a commodity in the 2000s, the practice was dropped into the conventional waterfalls of business process: decisions at the top filtered down to implementers, versus the team thinker-and-implementer model that gave Silicon Valley its edge. The real skills required to build great digital were underestimated while the medium underwent explosive growth. (I realize now that the afterglow of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s covered the tracks of the moneymen and their eventual near-total manipulation of the medium.) The course change in digital did not extinguish my self-imposed mission as an advocate for people who use digital products. How did they feel? What did they need? What did they care about? Were we serving them, or taking advantage of them, intentionally or not? Were we missing opportunities to better serve them because we assumed we knew what to do?
“I became an advocate for the people who use digital products. Were we serving them, or taking advantage of them, intentionally or not?”
Many organizations are now tied to digital products that do not meet with the needs of their customers nor, ultimately, the needs of the organization itself. The gap is easily measurable by deploying techniques such as scrutiny of analytics combined with user testing. The avoidance of this most basic type of audience research can be a tacit acknowledgment that there is nothing to be done about the way things are.
Digital products today, while infinitely more powerful and usable than their predecessors, still fail to serve their users. While business suffers from short-term thinking and active resistance to research and testing, millions of users daily deal with confusing digital interactions, resulting in the inability to find basic information of all kinds. People experience frustration when conducting key online transactions in education, banking, insurance, and public sector services. People experience disorientation when interacting with incoherent business software products at work. These problems are often ignored for as long as possible, or until a competitor creates a better product.
“Ultimately, the organizational desire – and will – to serve users will always be evident in the end product.”
Fortunately, enlightened leaders in business, sciences, healthcare and the public sector understand the value of evidence-based strategy for any organization that relies on digital communication. Ultimately, the organizational desire – and will – to serve users will always be evident in the end product. And the users will always have the last word.” back to top