Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. (Albert Einstein)

I got my start as a tech writer. One thing I began to notice very early on – and be rather concerned about – was when I had to writes pages and pages explaining a particular feature. Was all this verbiage really necessary? Could the way that feature operates be made a little simpler?

At some point, I started going back to my developers and asking them about it. Sometimes, they ignored me. Sometimes, they took me seriously. And, sometimes, they actually tried to come up with something simpler and more elegant.

I then made the rather monumental decision of coming up with some ideas on my own and presenting them. These led to some pretty good discussions – and with some of my ideas actually getting implemented. Hmm, I said to myself, this is pretty cool!

In fact, a number of the developers I worked with started to expect something from me in the way of a solution. I guess it was just easier than coming up with something on their own. And that’s how I got started in this business.

So, I don’t know if I’m in total agreement with Einstein here. Yes, I do get his point. Sometimes, though, complex things need complex explanations. The question we have to ask ourselves, as UX professionals, is whether that complex thing needs to be quite as complex as it is. If we can make it simpler, not only will it be simpler to explain, but it will be easier for the user to understand and use. And isn’t that the real goal here?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The most savage controversies are about those issues for which there is no clear evidence either way. (Bertrand Russell)

Some days, it seems these are the only issues I deal with.  :^(  What’s interesting, though, is that I never seem to come up with these on my own.  

I’m pretty evidence-based. I think it’s rather hard to be a usability engineer for 25 years and not be. More than that, though, it’s just the way I operate. I like nothing more than having my biases disconfirmed. That means I actually learned something that day.

As for the people I work with? Maybe not so much. The execs, the marketeers, and even the interaction designers and information architects on my team don’t always necessarily seem to do things that same way.  

How do they work instead? I think some of them might call themselves “passionate.” Now, that’s all well and good. Sometimes, though, that “passion” can strike others as simply “loudest voice wins.”

Now, I do have to say, that these people genuinely are passionate. They’re also typically pretty darn smart, and know their stuff as well. Finally, they do respect actual evidence. They may just not have any at hand – not that that’ll stop them though.  ;^)

Now, I’m passionate, and smart, and know my stuff too. The role I typically carve out for myself, though, is all that stuff, but subbing out the “passion” and throwing “evidence” in there instead (okay, I tend to be passionate about my evidence). And it’s really amazing how well that works, how that can stop all the conjecture and debate and “savagery” in its tracks.

So, here’s how I typically do that:
  1. Interrupt with some real data that is directly applicable
  2. Interrupt with some real data that is applicable but maybe a little less directly
  3. Start counting on the team to ask me if there’s any data
  4. Have no fear of saying, “I don’t know”
  5. Offer, though, to find out for them
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS