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The Useful Squad

Source: UN, 11 October 2001

A response to the search for a team name by Simon Tyler of Orange (see feature), from Interfaces editor, Tom McEwan.

Ah! This is a dilemna I recognise only too well. And it goes to the heart of whether usability is "in everything we say and do", or is grafted on at the end.

A recent involvement with industry - developing MP3 solutions for a start-up called Digmedia, that would allow musicians and writers to retain ownership of, and generate royalties from, their work - led us into the whole field of New Product Development - stuff like "Crossing the Chasm" and beyond. We came to recognise that, to create valid (useful?) products (in this case hardware, software, tools and processes for content providers), all the good HCI theory stuff was no import unless a necessary and sufficient role could be found in (the context of :) the NPD process.

Ignoring the work that such a team does on existing products (and, even here, is not change management a form of NPD?), perhaps teams like this should be seen as a superset of traditional NPD? And if an NPD team already bagged the title, call yourselves The Useful Squad!

If we are to make "Usability" what "Quality" was ten years ago - something that you can't test in - then we need to be built in with the bricks.

Ann, the UN editor, and I discussed at Lille how much we would like dialogue to bounce between this site and Interfaces (the magazine of the British HCI Group). This is a good example of a debate that would benefit from being more than an online chat or amailing thread. I still have some space in the next issue of Interfaces) for anyone who wants to take on any of these ideas. Final Deadline 24th Oct. Over to you all!

By the way, in a 100 word filler piece in my parochial evening newspaper's business page, I see that Vax "used ethnography to design" their latest greatest vacuum cleaner. Maybe we're more mainstream than we think! Thoughts on vacuum cleaner design processes also welcome at Interfaces.