14 December 2015

Security and accessibility both get lost in over-specialisation

While reading a short blog post by Alastair Campbell titled Security parallels I was struck with how much his observations felt connected to some of my own recent thinking.

Taking a UX point of view, Alastair demonstrated that the language used in reports and advice by security people are equally valid when re-framed as advice by accessibility people, suggesting the two schools of thought are both victims of the same failures in planning. This sounded remarkably familiar to my own recent observation that over-specialising roles in the delivery chain can cause things like security and accessibility (along with optimisation for speed) to become lost.

When I say "over-specialise" I do not mean professionals becoming too good at their specialism but instead becoming too not-good at everyone else's! When the designers start to focus only on making stuff look striking and the UX people start to focus only on convenience and conversions. When the back-end developers bury their head in code and front-end developers get punch-drunk on a whirlwind of new in-browser potential, the tasks of considering security and accessibility get done by no-one because they are the responsibility of everyone.

I think this bystander apathy effect is a product of out-dated and lazy job role definitions becoming comfort blankets that over-promise to the employer and exonerate the employee. With regard to caring about the important issues of security and accessibility, this factory production line model makes those on the team who are aware feel dis-empowered and those who don't care feel inconvenienced. The natural defensive response to the realisation that something's been missed is to hunker down even more and play the job title card in defense: "Oh I'm just a [insert any role] I don't know about security or accessibility". The inevitable outcome -- other than an inaccessible website with gaping security holes -- is a dysfunctional team that hemorrhages talent.

So the conclusion I draw from all this is that hybrid job roles might solve the problems of many people. Stop carving the delivery chain up into myopic specialists and let everyone learn everything. Schedule time for training and share knowledge with those outside your area of expertise. Re-analyse that old trope "Jack of all trades, master of none" and reassure yourself that we are all doing the same trade -- which is building great online products -- and mastering it will involve us learning many areas of design which are exactly that and not individual trades. More and more of the big wins in building the web are solvable by a holistic approach which will require less divergent minds and less specific job titles.