Decomposing the work

Two years’ ago, while working on the online courts pilot for NSW Justice, I read “Tomorrow’s Lawyers” by Richard Susskind. Primarily targeted at those entering the legal profession (with a side-swipe at those who had been in it for a while), the gist of the book was that the legal profession is not so special that it can ignore the expectations of society upon all service providers in this day and age. Legal firms that charge exorbitant hourly rates for work that can be systematised and commoditised will miss the tide of change and face extinction.

The point in the book that I found most interesting and relevant to the UX profession was the idea that when the work is “decomposed” into a set of tasks, senior lawyers are not necessarily uniquely qualified to perform each task. The example used by Susskind was in litigation: document review,┬álegal research, project management, litigation support, disclosure, strategy, tactics, negotiation and advocacy. When skilled litigators were asked which they felt uniquely qualified to perform, it was really only strategy, tactics, and possibly advocacy that got strong responses. Everything else could be tackled in alternate ways, such as outsourced document review services, and the use of intelligent search services.

The parallel in the UX profession is when questions arise about the differences between UX researchers and business analysts, or any other variety of skillsets in consultancies and client teams. Take a look at this sample set of tasks that a UX practitioner might undertake for a given project:

  • Field research
  • Workshops and interviews
  • Analytics review
  • Content audit
  • User stories
  • Taxonomy
  • Information architecture
  • Copywriting
  • Graphic design
  • Interaction design
  • Prototyping
  • Presenting

As a UX professional, I am not uniquely qualified to do any more than maybe two or three of those, and I’m not even convinced about that number. What I might bring is an overall mindset to advocate for the user, and a working knowledge of the psychological factors that are at play when designing services and interfaces for humans. But there are plenty of other people who are more than capable of either doing or partaking in most of those tasks. It might actually be that there is someone on the client team who is better qualified. For example, while working on that online courts project, I discovered one of the team had a psychology degree, so I was able to get help with research, usability testing and analysis.

There is no need to be dogmatic about how the work is done, or who it is done by. As long as the right tools are being used to solve problems, and there is a shared understanding between those involved, then you’re on the right track.

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