People, Users, or Whatever Floats Your Boat

Political Correctness

Don Norman discusses the nomenclature used to describe the people designers design for. Peter Merholz also comments on Don’s article.

Frankly, I think this was a throw-away article by Dr. Norman. Certainly I believe that the words we use to characterize a group can then reflect our motivations and feelings, but I believe he’s missing the point. This seems a little bit like political correctness run amok, or perhaps it’s touchy-feely user centered design 2.0 (UCD 2.0).

Now, don’t get me wrong. When I used to practice psychotherapy with clients, I knew that the words I chose to use could be very powerful. I even wondered whether or not I should refer to my clients as clients or patients. “Client” implied a paying customer whereas “patient” implied someone who was sick and needing healing. Were my clients offended? No. Did my characterization affect the work I did? No. Of course at the end of the day they were persons, but how do I characterize who they are otherwise? If I went home and spoke to my wife, would I tell her I was seeing a person or a client? You see how ridiculous this can become?

We use words to characterize the type of person we are referring to, and in business, it is important to distinguish between person types. If I am facilitating a business meeting or creating requirements documentation, isn’t it important that I identify the different stakeholder types – essentially indicating the types of people who have an interest in the product I am working on?

Yes, consumers, clients, customers, users, patients and the like are all people. That’s a given. However, don’t we already have personas to give design more of the “people” element? Frankly, if you’re so out of touch with the people you design for, then perhaps I can facilitate a therapy group so you can connect with your users. ;)

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Daily Reads

Wall Street Journal

Upon coming to work this morning, I noticed a stack of newspapers left outside of the building for our senior management – CEO, CFO, CTO, CLO, etc. I’ve noticed this with other companies as well – the daily read of choice is the Wall Street Journal.

Since my last post encouraged you, the reader, to aspire to executive management positions, such as CIO, what publications would you consider essential “big picture” executive daily reads? Why? Certainly this can encompass both online and traditional publications.

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Computer Rage

Kent Norman, Ph.D.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Laboratory for Automation Psychology at the University of Maryland. Kent Norman discussed a few things, but his passion involves the study of computer rage. I encourage you to take his survey.

May 6, 2005, Spot on Good Morning America (ABC):
“Computer Rage”(MOV 6.3MB)

On another note, I would encourage you to check out some information that was available from the University of Maryland/Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory Symposium and Open House on June, 2005.

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Effective Culture Change in the FBI

I recently read a CIO Magazine article that discusses some of problems the FBI has faced while attempting to implement technical solutions. Although technology projects have been successfully implemented, there still exists a culture that mimimizes the importance of these solutions. The article states

Azmi [FBI CIO] is aware of the mountain that faces him—not to mention the consequences if he fails to deliver the support systems the agents need to fight against high-tech crime and terrorism. “Looking at the mission of the FBI and how critical it is, I will tell you that we are at war,” he says. “And the best tool we have is information, and if information doesn’t get to agents on the street in time, then we haven’t done our job properly.”

Last year I wrote a paper entitled, “Effective Culture Change.” The paper was written as part of a graduate school team experience for the Department of Justice’s Library Services division. Although the paper was targeted to a specific audience within the DoJ‘s Justice Management Division, I feel the paper could be used to address some of the culture problems within the FBI and the DoJ as a whole.

First, let me define organizational culture. Claver, et al. (2001, p.248) define organizational culture as:

“A set of values, symbols and rituals shared by the members of a specific firm, which describes the way things are done in an organization in order to solve both internal management problems and those related to customers, suppliers and the environment.”

This culture manifests itself at both a visible level (age, ethnicity, gender, dress, organizational structure, symbols, slogans, etc.) and an invisible level (time, motivation, stability vs. change, orientation towards work, individualism vs. collaboration, control, how management views IT, etc.).

I believe the primary reason for failed IT projects and a revolving door of CIOs at the FBI is primarily due to the agency’s culture, not failed technologies or poor CIO leadership. Let me elaborate…