Man vs. Society: Which UX approach is better?
Michael Arrington of TechCrunch recently posted an article denouncing Digg’s policy of using its users as a Board of Directors. He outlined a strong argument for taking UXD and even content decisions away from the masses. But while raising an interesting question, he failed to recommend an alternative. The question remains: what is the best way to create a successful, user-friendly product?
Typically, when a board (or in Digg’s case, a mass of users) is responsible for decision making, the cons are clear. Each individual is able to pass the buck on errors, reaching consensus takes far longer, and an originally brilliant idea can be diluted by too many opinions.
Man’s Approach to UX
The most popular proponent of “one man at the helm” decision making is Steve Jobs. Like Athena from Zeus, the iPhone sprang fully formed from his head. Back in 1994, Jobs was fired from Apple for his inability to work together with the Board, but since his return, his singular leadership has resulted in Apple’s growing market dominance.
To be clear, Jobs does NOT produce higher quality materials because one man is inherently better equipped than a committee. In general, one person does not have a better view of their overall industry. Rather, Jobs produces higher quality materials because he has a specific knowledge he has nurtured over the years as leading expert on technological design and software usability.
Design in the Hands of a Team
Is it then as simple as transferring that skill set to other markets? Let’s look at Pixar, the animation group which was under Jobs’ direction for a number of years.
For all of Jobs’ technological expertise, he has very little knowledge in the animation, storytelling, and entertainment industries. Under his direction, Pixar lost money for years. It wasn’t until Pixar was able to team up with Disney’s experienced collection of animators and veteran directors that as a group, they put together a successful film: Toy Story. This was quickly followed by eight more films of equally high caliber, demonstrating what Jobs himself acknowledges, “Great things in business are not done by one person; they are done by a team of people.”
So what is the best way to create a user-friendly product? Simply put, it means you need a person or group with the right expertise heading the project. Though decisions take longer in a group, a solo leader with the wrong expertise will have a worse effect.
What is the Best way to Create a Successful, User-friendly Product?
Our take is that both are necessary. We split the difference between Committee and “One Man Helm” setups: we rely on one ATF user experience expert to gather the relevant information from usability testers.
How could Digg learn from our example? Perhaps they need one expert at the helm of their decision-making ship, collecting all of the research their users provide. Then it’s up to the expert to use the multitude of opinions to create a site that will make Digg a truly user-friendly site.