Jared Spool gave a pretty good banquet keynote for Agile 2009 on User Interface Engineering. The main point is that is that very successful companies use amazing interfaces as a key competitive advantage. And the key to this is good user experience design.
Case and point is Apple. We watched an Apple video from the 80’s that showed Apple’s vision for the future of the computer (funny/sad was a plot element so long ago was about global climate change). Everyone at Apple knew what the vision was and could explain it. So what this means is that everyone is thinking about the long-term vision. Every time they have a choice to make on design they can take a step in the right direction so that the future can be achieved in part through many many tiny shifts.
Good design is INVISIBLE. NetFlicks is destroying their competition through a ridiculously high net promoter score (how likely someone is to refer a friend). No one ever mentions their Web UI even though it rocks – it’s invisble: It does what it needs to and it’s easy. How do they do it? In part through a culture of excellence – employees are the top priority and the CEO puts this ahead of board meetings. To support this they hire fast and fire fast. They also pass the culture test.
How do you learn good user interface design? Mentoring! Good designers know what good design is, but cannot explain it. Like chicken sexing. (Makes me wonder how much we are kidding ourselves that good design can simply be taught through patterns or what not.)
The company test is a recipe for successful cultures. All the companies with awesome user experience met the test even though they were radically different in many ways.
The last point about celebrating failure is critical. If people are not making mistakes, then they are playing it safe. And if they are playing it safe, the result is mediocrity not excellence. There is a similar field of thought around innovation – it also requires support for failure.
If you need help building better UI, start with #2 – spend some time observing your users and then make it better.