Location: Home » UXblog
This particular blog post has been on my mind for a while now. Nowadays, a popular topic of conversation in the UX world encourages UX leaders everywhere to become more involved in business leadership and business strategy, as opposed to staying in their traditional sphere of influence related to UX strategy. There have also been a number of discussions/comments on a variety of UX blogs lately, about whether the term 'User' in our discipline name is accurate enough, or whether it should be replaced with a different term, such as 'customer' (as in 'customer experience' as opposed to 'user experience'). Others are proposing for the word 'User' to be dropped altogether, so 'user experience design' would end up known simply as 'experience design'.
In my opinion, the fact that these discussions are taking place around the same time speaks volumes about the lack of maturity in many of our practitioners' strategic thinking. Don't get me wrong, I think User Experience as a profession has come a long way in the last 10 years or so in terms of methods, process and industry standardization. We have successfully aligned or integrated our process within various software development methodologies, and we have even been promoted to participate in discussions at the big boys table with the business, technology and marketing folks. There are no doubt a few UX professionals acting or in line to act as CEOs, CXOs, CIOs or CTOs, who, through practice and years of experience, have aquired that business acumen needed to become a true leader in the boardroom. But before we even begin talking about user experience professionals setting the tone and creating the overarching strategy for all those non-UX areas, I would venture a guess that there is still a lot we need to learn about what constitutes a successful business, the parameters within which it operates, and last but not least, its terminology. This guerilla movement within the UX community who are trying to replace 'user experience' with 'customer experience' are obviously not aware that the term 'customer experience' has already been coined and it is used frequently in the corporate world to describe a completely differently business concept.
2010 happens to be the 20th anniversary of Improving a Human-Computer Dialogue, the ACM paper by Jakob Neilsen and Rolf Molich that introduced the concept of employing a list of heuristics when assessing the usability of human-computer interfaces. Four years later, Jakob Nielsen made history again with his famous 1994 heuristics, which are heavily used in usability evaluations even today. In the past decade, additional lists of heuristics related to various aspects of typical UX methodologies have been compiled, yet Nielsen's original list continues to defy the usual laws of longevity that typically constrain the web world. Most likely, this has happened due to the generic nature of the 10 heuristics, which provide largely general statements and consequently, most usability problems can be easily molded to fit the items on Nielsen's list.
Early in my 10 year career as a UX professional, I've used Nielsen's 10 heuristics as the de-facto standard whenever I've performed usability evaluations. As time went by, I gradually went away from Nielsen's original list and I've gradually started employing additional heuristics that are less general and allow to clearly identify modern usability / user experience pitfalls of web-based systems. While the number of heuristics I typically use for an expert heuristics evaluation now stands north of 60 and because I believe that some of them are more relevant than others, I've decided to choose my own top 10 as an homage to Nielsen's timeless original list.
My last blog article had some harsh words directed at those responsible for creating the new website of the Clerk of Privy Council. Public Service employees and people in the community rallied around the opinion that the public should leave the Government alone, irrespective of whether they produce quality or not (calling it 'experimentation'). I still absolutely disagree with that opinion. Everyone's work should be open to critical feedback, especially publicly funded projects. If you put something out there (be it a website, a social media profile, a poster, a photo, a sculpture, a painting etc.), you are opening yourself up for, among other things, criticism. You can choose to act on it, ignore it, or respond to it. But to say that it's ok to produce inferior material because those responsible are not interested in properly researching and creating their deliverables is a fallacy. Someone from within GoC told me offline that the Government can accept to be open, but cannot accept being wrong. When did GoC websites become exempt from being scrutinized?
Others have lamented I am in no position to question the quality of a website because design is subjective. I agree that design is subjective, and I would add that it is also personal. But regardless, we have had design contests since the beginning of time because quality and innovation are also obvious to the masses, and especially to those trained in creating or evaluating visual material. And because there is a huge number of GoC websites, those who have worked in visual communications, design or user experience for the government can pick and choose with relative ease the ones that stand out in quality as well as the ones who are not exactly up to par. So for today's post, I chose to agree to disagree with those who think we should tolerate mediocrity and create a Best and Worst list for GoC CLF-based public website designs.
Best and Worst lists are the bread and butter of many research bodies, including Forrester and Gartner. Bloggers all over the world publish Best and Worst lists every day. To choose these websites, I have reviewed the homepage of every site on the Departments and Agencies list available at www.gc.ca, and also looked at select microsites of some of those departmental homepages.
While the reaction to the Government of Canada web template design (CLF3Layout.doc, 100Kb) published in my previous blog post was extremely positive, the item that generated the most intriguing follow-up conversation was the concept of crowdsourcing the CLF 3.0 visual design to the general public.
It is well documented that the Government of Canada has fallen behind other governments when it comes to Gov 2.0 initiatives. Countries like New Zealand, Finland and Australia have all created clean, modern and professional look and feel standards for their government web properties. And although still behind Canada on look and feel standardization, the US Federal Government roared ahead of the pack on the OpenGov front, riding the popularity of crowdsourcing initiatives like Data.gov, Peer to Patent, the recently announced Design for America contest, as well as virally marketed local initiatives like Apps for Democracy. If you are not familiar with these, and youíre wondering just how successful our southern neighbours were in capturing the publicís interest, here's an example: when launched, in May 2009, Data.gov had just 47 data sets. 10 months later, it now has more than 168,000 and it's growing every day. Another country at the forefront of the OpenGov movement, New Zealand, has successfully released data.govt.nz, its own data catalog used for crowdsourcing purposes.
I would venture to say that while I am confident that Canada will (eventually) open its federal data (there are some great internal collaboration and OpenGov initiatives that are driven out by the enthusiastic W2P public servant crowd - twitter search: #w2p), we have clearly missed the boat on being leaders in the open data space. However, there is one initiative that can put Canada right up there with the leaders in this space: crowdsourcing the new version of our Federal Government's look and feel standards (CLF 3.0). To my knowledge, no government has done this yet and pulling it off would not only raise the profile of our Gov2.0 and OpenGov programs, but would bring much needed positive coverage both nationally and internationally for our battered Public Service decision-makers. As they say, if you can't win, make up your own sport :O)
30/03: Why is CLF 2.0 so damn ugly?
As a UX professional based in Ottawa, I work quite a bit with Government clients. Prior to this year, the internet standard used by the Government of Canada (also known as the Treasury Board Common Look & Feel Guidelines or 'CLF') was a rigid antiquated template professed in the name of uniformity. This year however, the eagerly anticipated CLF 2.0 has finally been approved and mandated for all government departments. From a standards perspective, CLF 2.0 is greatly superior to its predecessor as it requires compliance to the XHTML 1.0 Strict and CSS 1.0 standards, and adherence to the WCAG Priority 1 and 2 checkpoints.
However, from a user experience perspective, apart from the obvious accessibility and browser compatibility improvements, CLF 2.0 is still the ugly sister of major government common look and feel guidelines. Apart from the US (the US government only professes adherence to Section 508: Americans with Disability Act and does not provide look and feel guidelines), the governments of Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and the UK have an appearance that is less rigid and much more visually pleasing. While I commend the designers at TBS for their standards work, would it hurt to hire an agency to make it look professional as well ?
accessibility branding business canUX community conference design GoC CLF marketplace ottawa privacy project management public sector research security standards TEDx thoughts usability user experience user interface UX tools UXcamp wireframes
- Thoughts on CLF 3.0 From Outside the Firewall... 16510 views » 32
- Best and Worst of CLF 2.0 Public Web Design 12192 views » 20
- CLF 3.0 Crowdsourcing: A Public Traction Pill for OpenGov Initiatives 3935 views » 7
- One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: 'His Clerkiness' is Online 3778 views » 7
- UX+Agile: Like Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde? 3030 views » 2
- UXWG: The Dawn of a New UX Era in the Canadian Government? 2870 views » 9
- Should Intrapreneurship Be Recognized Within the Government? 2707 views » 5