For readers unfamiliar with my opinion on SharePoint, look no further than my rant from late last year. However, I see one thing that to me is infinitely worse. It may even be common ground in a shared perspective with comrade Matt Ranlett, who wrote a nice rebuttal. Given my final retort, some SharePoint denizens may read this with a skeptical eye. But I ask you to put aside your predisposition and judge my argument on its merit.
Like Any Good Member of Gen-X
Ask any Gen-Xer what they loathe and they will likely rant about inauthenticity and their never-ending quest to find something good and true. As a standing member of Gen-X, I'm no different. Just like Holden Caulfield, the phoniness of the world around me leaves me, at times, both enraged and depressed. One particular charade now rises high on my list -- so high that it leaves my hatred of SharePoint in the dust.
The only thing I hate even more than SharePoint is what I call the SharePoint Design Poser. SharePoint Design Posers exist throughout a class of system integrators and consulting shops that specialize in SharePoint implementations and proclaim their User Experience design qualifications to the world.
I could easily go off the deep end and refer to this class as the SharePoint Shysters. But that implies a forethought and desire to do harm to their clients, which I don't believe is the case. What I am referring to is their delusion of actually understanding User Experience culture, values and philosophies.
The first easy tell of a poser is their use of User Experience lingo with little or no intellectual horsepower to back it up. This is most obvious when the shop in question doesn't involve UX designers in sales or project approaches, yet talks about UX design as if it is old hat. They throw around buzzwords such as taxonomy and usability with no significant detail about how these activities create UX value.
Ask questions that require a detailed expertise, like "What makes a taxonomy good? How do you design scalable navigation? Is that different than taxonomy? What makes a site usable?" and you'll find yourself hearing either a bunch of crickets or a bunch of buzzwords with no intelligible message or coherence. Don't let them fool you into thinking you can’t understand. If they are unable to explain their thoughts and methods in a way you can understand, then what makes you think they are able to design anything your audiences will understand? It’s like saying "I make complex things simple. But the process is complex so I can't explain.”
The second easy tell of the poser is leading with OOTB SharePoint technology and features rather than UX strategy and design. How can a shop be user- or design-centric when their "solution" concepts revolve almost exclusively around the technology?
When early project discussions center just on technology and features, resign yourself to dissatisfaction as the result, because that’s how your end users will certainly feel. Adding "MySites" to that intranet your employees already either ignore or begrudgingly use only adds more noise to a fragmented and unpleasant experience. It won’t increase delight, adoption or usefulness.
Good consulting shops lead with user research. If your consulting partners claim to be user-centered but aren’t arguing to persuade you to do some form of user research such as contextual inquiry, card sorting, observation, paper prototyping or usability testing, then they are among the posers.
Please notice that focus groups and other market research activities are not on my list. There are many valuable user research activities not listed above that can be of benefit, but focus groups and other market research activities do not fall among them when trying to inform anything but the highest level of strategies.
Most market research staples provide only very high-level abstractions about what people like and don't like. Market research will never help you understand how people think, how you should organize your content or how well your taskflow works. Focus groups may tell you that "Search sucks. Make it like Google," but that is neither news to anyone, nor is it of any value in designing ways to address systemic findability problems.
Did a Mechanic Design Your Car?
Would you want a mechanic to design your car? Would you want a general practitioner to perform your surgery? No. And if either tried to sell you on the fact that they could do it, you’d report them to the BBB and the AMA. It would be considered ludicrous and unethical for them to be such unabashed posers. Yet we allow this in UX design every day.
Don't get me wrong -- there are tech geeks, PMs and BAs who really understand UX. They just rarely work for tech-centric shops, as they get too frustrated by the constant rush to implement.
The next time you are in a meeting where someone is trying to sell you on their design capability, ask them for some insight into their design process, their favorite design books, and how they got into UX in the first place. If they can't inspire you with their deep sense of passion and insight, it's not because you don’t understand. It's because that passion and insight is not there to begin with!