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An international peer-reviewed journal

User Experience Design: The Evolution of a Multi-Disciplinary Approach

Deborah J. Mayhew

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 3, Issue 3, May 2008, pp. 99-102

Article Contents

The 80's

I remember the reaction among developers at the consulting company I worked at, back in the early 1980's, when the company executives first tried to implement a standard development methodology (they were trying to standardize their own internal development methodology in hopes of ultimately packaging it as a product to sell). Outrage! Project-leader programmers were appalled at the idea of not being able to manage their projects as they saw fit. They complained that having to follow a standard would squash their own creativity and ability to innovate, degrading their job satisfaction. Developers were similarly aghast, and for the same reasons, when the company started to move towards greater specialization and division of labor on development project teams.

One early change was to create a specialized role called a "business analyst," who was no longer a programmer but rather a business expert. Programmers would no longer do business analysis. This was the first responsibility taken away from programmers who were used to doing everything. They soon lost the rest of their client handling responsibilities, which were next assigned to "account managers," again, strictly a business role. Then another new specialized role emerged-a project manager-that similarly had little real technical role, and became primarily a management role. Again, programmers were disgruntled at the need to be "managed" and to lose yet more control over their projects.

Role specialization continued to expand. In the mid 80's an approach to system architecture that cleanly separated user interface code from application code emerged. This separation facilitated application maintenance and enhancement. Correspondingly, the programmer role began to split into "back end" engineers" and "front end" programmers-a further specialization which removed the user interface design role from at least one segment of the programmer role, but still left it in the hands of programmers. Specialized tools for architecting and building independent user interface code began to emerge, and correspondingly one segment of the programmer community began to specialize in these tools.

And ultimately, the final insult to the ever diminishing role of the programmer-the field of computer-human interaction, which had begun to emerge in the late 1970's, began to take hold. Programmers now had to take advice from "user interface designers" and "human factors" professionals, who were usually not software professionals at all. They tended to be people with backgrounds in psychology or human factors. Many, if not most, programmers (especially those who had come to specialize in user interface tools) were used to, and liked, doing user interface design and considered themselves perfectly competent in this area, and were not at all happy to lose control of it. Early usability professionals were usually considered unwelcome interlopers by developers, and were still not well understood-and thus not well supported-by management. It was a tough role to play in the 80's.

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