Tuesday, February 4, 2014

One of the most fundamental rules of user experience on the web is that developers are rarely qualified to evaluate it. (Luke Wroblewski)

I’ve been doing this usability stuff for a shockingly long time.  In the beginning, we had only one enemy to blame for everything – the techy.  It’s who Alan Cooper was talking about when he titled his 1999 book The Inmates are Running the Asylum.   

Back then, this approach made a ton of sense.  Computers had originally been developed by techies for techies.  I’m talking card readers, green screens, punch cards, and command-line interfaces (all of which yours truly actually has experience with – something I like to scare my younger colleagues with when we all go out to lunch).  

Then along came this thing called a “PC.”  All of a sudden, techies weren’t designing for techies anymore, but for secretaries and insurance salesmen and high school teachers.  And these people really didn’t want to learn COBOL or Fortran to print their label or fill out their expense report or enter their class grades.  

And this is where I stepped in.  Well, actually, I just happened to complete graduate school at this time.  But there sure were plenty of opportunities out there for people like me to help make the world a better place (with a special emphasis on the human-computer interface, of course).

Nowadays, the blame can be spread around a little.  In addition to techies, we’ve also got marketeers, bean counters, art directors, senior execs, and all sorts of sundry corporate types getting between the users and what they want to do.  

At the same time, though, I have to admit that there is a lot less blame to go around.  Everybody, it seems, appears to get usability and user experience in a way that no one did twenty-five years ago.  Even the poor developer.

With all that said, I still think The Inmates are Running the Asylum is one of the best UX books ever written.  It introduced concepts like not designing for the edge case, modeling human-computer interaction on human-human interaction (what Cooper calls politeness), and using personas and scenarios.  Except maybe for its tone toward developers, I’m not sure that book will ever be out of date.

Alan, not Luke

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