The defining characteristic of the early days of interaction design was fighting for a voice, fighting to be recognized. After emerging from the wreckage of the collapsing dot-com bubble, survivors finally embraced the value of design, and the practice surged. When the iPhone was released it became clear to everyone that products that behaved well had massive advantages. Design had finally won its seat at the table. But somehow, amid all the profit-taking, a familiar all-we-need-is-engineering-and-sales ethos that had defined the old Silicon Valley came roaring back.
Companies (big, successful companies like Sonos, Autodesk, and Apple) gradually marginalized the contributions of interaction design. Their brands were established, and they discovered once again that it was easier to convince users that their products were easy to use than it was to actually make them easy to use. And middle managers — always gaming the system, looking for personal advantage and professional advancement — began to ask questions like, “What is the ROI of UX?”
“Return on investment” is a manager’s term. Understanding it, tracking it, and increasing it are a manager’s job, not a practitioner’s. The designer’s job is to design, to make the product effective and desirable. It’s the manager’s job to make sure money is made from its being desired. And yet, managers continue to ask design practitioners about ROI. When they ask, they aren’t seeking enlightenment. They are expressing their doubts. They are voicing their skepticism. They are building a case against the discipline.
The people who hire designers and ask them what their value is pretty clearly don’t know what designers do, don’t really care, and don’t really want any value they might contribute.
And designers take the bait every time.
There are a thousand blog posts where design practitioners drag out case studies and click streams to defend the assertion that a well-behaved product makes more money. It’s a lot like those safety placards on chainsaws that say, “Possibility of Injury.” Duh.
The value of interaction design is massive and awesome! You can see its value a mile away. Interaction design makes users love their products, and makes product managers look like heroes. Apple built its reputation on it. Thousands of companies have bested their competition with it.
If your boss is asking you to quantify the value of your work, you need to understand that your work indeed has no value. Not at that company. Not with that boss.