Giving Users What They Want (Maybe)

Tradition has it that users come up with a set of requirements which architects and designers take and turn into “a solution”. That is, a combination of bespoke and off-the-shelf, hardware and software components, that are assembled in such a way they address all the requirements (non-functional as well as functional). Another point of view is that users don’t actually know what they want and therefore need to be guided toward solutions they never knew they needed or indeed knew were possible. Two famous proponents of this approach were Henry Ford who supposedly said:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

which is debunked here and of course Steve Jobs and Apple whose “Eureka” moments continue to give us gadgets we never knew we needed. As Adrian Slywotzky points out here however, the magic that Jobs and Apple seem to regularly perform is actually based on highly focused and detailed business design, continuous refinement through prototyping and a manic attention to the customer experience.In other words it really is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.

One thing that both Henry Ford and Steve Jobs/Apple did have in common was also a deep understanding of the technology in their chosen fields of expertise and, more importantly, where that technology was heading.

If, as an architect, you are to have a sensible conversation with users (AKA customers, clients, stakeholders et al) about how to create an architecture that addresses their needs you not only need a good understanding of their business you also need a deep understanding of what technology is available and where that technology is heading. This is a tall order for one persons brain which is why the job of an architect is uniquely fascinating (but also hard work). It’s also why, if you’re good at it, you’ll be in demand for a while yet.

Remember that, even though they may not know it, users are looking at you to guide them not only on what the knowns are but also on what the unknowns are. In other words, it’s your job to understand the art of the possible, not just the art of the common-or-garden.

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