Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Your site is not an island. You need to fit in with the rest of the web. (Keith Instone)

I am a firm believer in standards. My arguments in favor of them are typically two:
  1. Somebody else might have thought about this before
  2. Users might actually have gotten used to doing things a certain way

As a result, one of the things I love to do on any project is a quick competitive eval. I just go out and see what all our competitors are doing. This gives me a good sense of:
  • Whether there are any standards
  • How strong they are
  • Whether it would make any sense to break them

I’m always amazed, though, at how many people simply can’t wait to break standards. They usually cite innovation, and creative disruption, and whatever buzzword happens to be current.

Actually, I’ve come to the realization, over the years, that this may have more to do with personality than anything. If you’re familiar with Myers-Briggs, I’m a (weak) S. S’s tend to be more practical, down-to-earth, and data-driven. The people who I butt heads with tend to be (strong) N’s. They tend to be more abstract, intuitive, and full of ideas. 

I typically handle my N colleagues by getting them to:
  • Focus on higher-level issues, and less on details. For example, radio buttons are a pretty darn good way to tell a user that he needs to make just a single-choice. There’s really no need to reinvent this particular wheel. Developing a wizard to help a user pick the product that’s right for them? Now, there’s something that might actually add some real value.
  • Solve real problems rather than simply coming up with random new ideas. A colleague of mine likes to make the distinction between innovation (the former) and mere invention (the latter). 

By the by, before you can solve real problems, you have to identify them. And I’ve always been a big fan of ethnography when it comes to that.

Keith may be most famous for his work in getting going
the IA Summit, UXnet, and World Usability Day
(oh, and those glasses)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

One swallow does not a summer make. (Aesop)

This one is actually posted in the observation room of my usability lab. It’s a subtle, tasteful reminder that you might want to consider coming to more than just that one usability test, Mr. or Ms. Team Member. 

Yes, I know you’re busy. Yes, I realize that usability tests are a little bit like baseball games – lots of boredom punctuated by rare, brief flurries of excitement that are easy to miss.

You do realize, though, that that one user you saw may not be totally representative of all 10 I will be bringing in this week, right? In other words, if you happen to be at the very first session, there’s really no need to completely redesign the system (or get all defensive or jump off the roof) before the 10:30.

And when it’s time for the report out, do please be a little circumspect when you’re tempted to talk for 10 minutes about the one user who had that one problem that – hate to break this to you – nobody else actually had. The rest of us did see that person, saw a whole bunch of other people as well, and determined that that original user might just be an outlier.

Yup, that’s right. The rest of the team actually attended most of the tests. And, as a matter of fact, I personally happened to attend all of them. In addition, I was paying attention the whole time as well. Finally, I spent probably twice as much time reviewing my notes, looking at the tapes, trying to figure out what it all meant, and putting it all in a form that you could easily digest.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m really happy you could make that particular session. And, no, I am not taking attendance. It’s just that the more users you see, the more you’ll understand and the more refined your subsequent judgments will be. No, you don’t have to attend every darn one. Heck, 3 or 4 might be enough to give you a good idea whether what you’re seeing is representative or not. 

(By the way, I actually have not found this to be a real problem for the actual members of the project team. Interaction designers, information architects, writers and even graphic designers are usually there for the duration. It’s often the managerial or business types who are guilty here. And that’s okay. In general, if these types take my report seriously and act on the findings, it’s not totally essential that they see it with their own eyes.)

And, no, Aesop was not blind. I understand 
the sculptor just had trouble “doing eyes.”