And that makes them a little bit different from everyone else they work with. They have no axe to grind, no dog in the fight, no skin in the game … whatever cliché you happen to favor.
Honestly, they just want to know if something’s going to work or not. Everyone else seems to have an agenda. The designer is probably just pulling for what they came up with. Their manager, on the other hand, may simply not want anything to come up that might make them look bad. The business probably has some pet idea that they want to make sure gets baked in somehow. Developers might want to make use of some cool widget they just saw somewhere. And the executive vice president … well, who knows what they want or are thinking? (Hopefully, they’ll just go away.)
Now, that’s not to say that a usability engineer might not have some predictions. But, like a true scientist, they will put those aside and, instead, root for real knowledge. I am actually right a surprising amount of the time (hey, 30 years, 4000 users), but the times I’m not are the ones I remember and enjoy the most.
And that’s because I am adding to the corpus of knowledge. Now, that can mean something at a pretty low level (that page really does need some online help, and my team really needs to know that) but at a pretty high one as well (help really adds a lot to a system, but it needs to be contextual and speak the user’s language - and pretty much everyone in UX needs to know that).
The whole idea, though, is to keep it humble. In fact, I am much more psyched about a test where I was wrong than one where I was right. How often does that happen among the rest of the team? I’ve actually found some experienced designers who are right there with me all of the way. For the rest of them, though, I think they could take some advice from lowly ol' Pooh Bear.
By the way, here’s the full passage:
Pooh was sitting in his house one day, counting his pots of honey, when there came a knock on the door.
“Fourteen," said Pooh. "Come in. Fourteen. Or was it fifteen? Bother. That's muddled me."
"Hallo, Pooh," said Rabbit.
"Hallo, Rabbit. Fourteen, wasn't it?"
"My pots of honey what I was counting."
"Fourteen, that's right."
"Are you sure?"
"No," said Rabbit. "Does it matter?"
"I just like to know," said Pooh humbly, "So as I can say to myself: 'I've got fourteen pots of honey left.' Or fifteen, as the case may be. It's sort of comforting."
Hmm, had no idea Pooh was a quant.
Winnie the Pooh meets technology -