I have often been involved in conversations on the differences between those user experience practitioners who are trained and educated in the more traditional areas of industrial engineering, ergonomics, cognitive psychology, or human factors and those who have come to the profession via a degree in Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Those who have the more traditional degrees are eligible to work on things like air traffic control systems and the design of nuclear power plants, but a great many of these people, like myself, have chosen to work in the IT industry on more commercial applications.
As a result, the debate often focuses on the skill-sets possessed by practitioners who have taken the different routes, and the key questions asked are:
- How important is it for a practitioner to have a deep understanding of the visual, intellectual, motor, and memory capabilities of the users when they are designing commercial systems?
- How important is it to have the knowledge of implementing empirical research techniques for evaluations when they are rarely used?
The answer to these questions obviously depends on the situation, but the growing demand for usability work in recent years has meant that individuals with very little training in this area are also conducting evaluations and creating designs. In addition, the cost and time pressure of today's IT industry means that empirical research is not always viable or even understandable by our clients, so simpler and quicker techniques need to be employed in order to get data to inform design.
Therefore, is it necessary, when employing these 'discount' techniques for evaluation and creating user interface designs, to have a deeper understanding of cognition and empirical techniques? There is also the question of whether the use of user interface design standards and guidelines, and the knowledge gained in a couple days of training is enough to get effective results. In this fast growing industry, HCI is becoming increasingly important along with how to provide quality services in a fast moving and economically strapped environment.