I’m intimately familiar with this one primarily because my wife is a novelist. It’s one of the most basic ideas in fiction. A good example might be revealing a character’s true nature by an act or a quote of theirs. Which certainly beats simply saying the character is mean, or brave, or witty, or whatever.
Now, how could that possibly apply to user research? Isn’t a good usability report all about "just the facts"? And though I do work a lot with personas, aren’t they something very different from characters in novels?
Maybe a better way to say this might be, “Do the math.” It’s usually not enough to simply say that screen X didn’t work or task A failed. If you do nothing else, you have to at least offer some detail. There’s a reason something failed or didn’t work, right? Now, what was that exactly?
If your client can get their head around those reasons, that might be all that’s required. So, that button was hidden, that path was pretty convoluted, that copy was really hard to read. I get it.
It helps too, though, if you have some evidence. First, you can just throw some numbers in there. Even though you’re probably talking about the small numbers that come with qualitative studies, it is helpful to know that everybody had that problem, or most did, or over half …
It’s even better, though, when you can share quotes and clips. Those can really bring home the idea that these are real users having real problems. It’s not just my take on it. I’m not just editorializing here. Quotes and clips really do speak for themselves.
So, you’re probably now asking yourself who the heck was Percy Lubbock. Well, the interwebs are telling me that he was, in fact, a British literary critic (and a CBE to boot!). His The Craft of Fiction popularized this adage way back in the 1920’s.
It’s an idea, though, that’s been expressed by a number of different writers:
- Mark Swan (American playwright and scriptwriter): "Show–not tell”
- Anton Chekhov: “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
- Ernest Hemingway: “Show the readers everything, tell them nothing.”
My favorite writer after Shakespeare (and my wife, of course)