For most of my design career, I did not have a subject matter expert (SME) to work with when I was designing a user experience. Of course, I have limited experience – at Digital Equipment Corporatoiio FTP Software, Iris/Lotus/IBM. None of those companies had subject matter experts to help with the design. For example, when working on DEC Fortran, I didn’t have Fortran progammers hanging around to tell me how they worked. When I worked at Iris/Lotus/IBM I worked mainly on end-user software like instant messaging and email, so I didn’t need a subject matter expert.
However, in my 2 most recent jobs, there have been subject matter experts. At SolidWorks, there were “Product definition specialists” who really understood 3D CAD modeling. They reported into another department -still in engineering (I think), but not officially part of a UX Group. At EMC, in my UXD group, I have 3 “use case architects”, who are basically subject matter experts. They have been network and storage administrators. They have provisioned and diagnosed, etc.
These people are instrumental in helping the interaction desginers do their jobs – because the interaction designers (While they might have access to a test server running the various management software) do not actually manage, monitor, or run any data centers.
While I am glad to have them – I wonder if the best place to put them is in a UX group. Maybe it is. I am certainly NOT trying to get rid of them. These people help not only the interaction designers, but also Product management, marketing, and quality assurance. Is there a best place to put such SME’s so that they have the best possible influence on the development of a product? What is your experience?