Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Even developers have feelings. (Rolf Molich)

I’ve always found it ironic that usability engineers, who are so centered on “the user,” often neglect to keep their own users in mind.  I’m not talking about the end users of some system or website, but the usability engineer’s own clients, the people who receive the reports and pay the bills.

This problem seems to be most evident in usability reports.   I’ve seen a number over the years that just aren’t very friendly.  And so has Rolf.  In fact, one of his main interests is helping usability engineers create better, more usable reports.  

So, what are Rolf and I griping about?  Now, this is by no means something that is the problem that it was years ago, and probably only applies to a small minority of usability engineers these days.  I guess I put it all down to two things…

One is that we are engineers, right?  So, it’s an engineering report then, correct?  And we all know that engineering reports are long, and boring, and have plenty of data and tables and appendices.

The second is probably simply a hangover from academia.  God knows there are an awful lot of PhDs in this field.  And we all know what journal articles are like, right (and how long, boring, and full of data and tables and appendices they are)?  

Well, as it turns out, our actual audiences cannot typically get as jazzed up about the traditional usability report as we can.  Our audiences are usually not other usability engineers or editors of academic journals.  Our audiences are typically information architects, and interaction designers, and marketers, and execs, and graphic designers, and content specialists, and – can you imagine – even developers!  

There are plenty of things we can do to make our reports more usable for our actual readers, but one thing we can do to help developers (and any person, really, who had input into the look and feel of what we are testing) is simply to be nice. Now, there are several ways to do that.  

One that I have fallen in love with over the years is to simply include some positive findings in my report.  I have heard other usability engineers balk at that, saying that we’re all adults here, that we’re not getting paid to stroke egos, etc., etc.  I find, though, that responding well to positive reinforcement is simply the way that most humans work – and that includes developers as well.


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