Monday, July 6, 2015

The users of your product are experts in what they do and how they do it. (Whitney Quesenbury)

Google isn’t exactly helping me here, but I recall a story about a bunch of philosophers sitting around debating how many teeth hen have. Of course, all of them had great arguments about what that number might be, but none of them actually went outside and checked a chicken.

I’m struck sometimes how much some of my meetings over the years have resembled that conclave of philosophers. In general, the syllogism goes something like this:
  1. I’m a user
  2. I have teeth
  3. All users have teeth
Honestly, sometimes I feel that usability engineers are the only ones who want to go find a chicken and pry open its mouth. Yup, we tend to be the empiricists in this matter.

Now, a lot of this comes from simply doing usability tests. It’s amazing what you can learn about - not only the particular subject matter of the test, but all sorts of things about your system, your users, and people and technology in general. Do that a hundred times a year over so many years and, yup, you do get to know those chickens pretty well.

An even more effective method, though, is through field studies. Now, you may know these as “ethnographic studies” or “contextual inquiry,” but all they really involve is simply watching people doing their thing in their own environment. I’m definitely not a purist when it comes to these things, so I typically have no problem just making them a glorified interview. However you do it, you’re sure to get a lot out of it. And no matter who runs 'em.

Oh, by the way … Hens? They don’t have any teeth. Believe me – I just looked.

(not Whitney, by the way)

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