Yay! Halleluja! Huzzah! Yippee Skippee! The day I have longed for has arrived. I am no longer the only one talking about the need for design philosophy in the API space. At this time last year, Alan Cooper (the godfather of user centered design) and I were seemingly the only ones who recognized that this space is in need of designers. Although Alan empathized and heartily agreed with me I still felt alone given that nobody else was writing or speaking about the topic. Fast forward one year and there was an actual panel at SXSW and a room full of people committing to be in a workshop for more than 2 and a half hours to talk and learn about the "UX of APIs".
The Preamble - UX 101
The panel was made up of Jeremiah Lee formally of awe.sm, Brian Smith of Dropbox, Neil Mansilla of Mashery and R. Kevin Nelson of rdio. Jeremiah kicked off the panel discussion with a definition of the User Experience discipline. UX he said, was "empathy as an applied science". He proceeded to give the roomful of geeks an introductory course in user experience and covered a good amount of ground from Jared Spool, to Aaron Walter.
Jeremiah's precept was that "supporting 3rd party developers takes more than code". From here he explained a good amount of foundational UX subject matter. He explained Jared Spool's 5 design styles (unintended, self, genius, activity focused and experience focused) and then spoke in detail about user research methods and how they differed from market research (user research informs design, market research validates a market).
Jeremiah had to cede the floor to the rest of the panel at this point, and the panel gave deep first hand experience with creating APIs, SDKs and how they have worked with communities of developers in developing engaged communities. I found all of the materials presented and conversations valuable and waited patiently to contribute what I knew would be a hand grenade. I walked up to the mic, gave some apologies for what I was about to say, dropped the bomb and then let the fun commence.
The Bomb - UX 201
Helping API developers understand that they have an actual audience is a great start. Teaching them some basic fundamentals of how to think about and apply UX tactics is also great. The bomb that I threw out there was that even though these are necessary to make progress, neither of these tactics are sufficient to solve the underlying misunderstanding of how design thinking can advance the power of strategic API usage and adoption in the marketplace.
Having a holistic perspective of this space requires an understanding of a couple of fairly complex truths: