I was attending a UPA talk yesterday, and although I came in toward the end of the session, managed to catch a glimpse of what was about to turn into a flame war about how companies aren’t really innovating to their fullest potential. The speaker also apparently implied that usability is becoming less effective a tool in making great innovation happen, to which some people clearly disagreed.
It’s interesting to note that Martyn Perks has mentioned these things before, in a similar way a few years ago, also at another UPA event, so it seems he’s making a name for himself on this.
I’m setting aside the obvious flame baits here, because innovation and usability can too often be defined in ways that mean lots of things depending on what you’re talking about. Maybe what Perks was referring to reads something along the lines of this research article, which evaluates how (occasionally rigorous or ‘standardized’) usability work can hinder the creative progression that may be essential to produce effective innovation (whatever that innovation means).
I feel this comparison is partly pointless already, but I am summarizing my reasons as to why I feel this is so.
1. inevitably, all solutions are aimed at the long term and the wider good
Cast the net, aim for the greater good – let’s make both the usability and innovation folks happy. Let’s make them celebrate why they believe usability and innovation are so deeply connected to one another, it would be ridiculous to separate them – even if there are differences between the two.
2. don’t be afraid to use the P word
Politics are an obvious reason why we often do any innovating or usabilit-izing(?), or not. It may not have to be the case of the-bad-boss, since even small groups at peer level suffer from organizational behaviour influences. One case study I learnt this week revealed how a information architecture project failed because some people were afraid they would lose their jobs to an effectively redesigned website. This is one reason why I don’t think we’ll be seeing robots more than we’ll be seeing secretaries over the next 100 years (secretaries always do a better job).
3. many different people are good. many different people are bad.
Information architects. Brand strategists. Marketers. Usability testers. Users. Organizational psychologists. How many terms do we need for people who get paid to solve “new” problems for old and clueless people who can’t understand it anyway? And it seems that everyone has a specific trait, formed quite commonly by a shared interest in being really creative, solving real problems, and making real users happy. So why is there such an internal confusion? Let’s be nice to one another, since the future is inevitably ours since old people die anyway, and the clueless move on.
4. So what if the word usability and innovation has been overused?
Everyone knows what it sort of means, just work around it. We’ve beaten this to death.
I’ll do my best to attend the next and final UPA talk in London before 2009 comes around. Hopefully with less flame baits.