Wednesday, December 13, 2017

If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success. (Malcolm X)

I never thought I’d be quoting Malcolm X in a blog about usability. In fact, I originally had no idea I was quoting him. I had found this quote in a fortune cookie, of all places. It was only when I Googled the quote that I found that it was from the father of Black radicalism.

It is, however, a quote that can be applied to many different fields. Within usability, I see it applying in a number of situations.

Most obviously, this sounds like something I’d share with my project teams. I’ve found, over the years, that good designers can’t wait to get real user feedback. They tend to have thicker skins, and can roll with the punches. And I like to point out, and congratulate them, on their ability to do so. 

Needless to say, we can also turn the tables on ourselves. Once again, I’ve found that the better usability engineers are the ones who are always learning things and looking for a better way to do their jobs. They tend to practice what they preach, and let humility be their guiding principle. But this probably just comes from being a social scientist. I’ve found that, in every test I run, I learn something new – whether that’s about computers, people, or myself.

Finally, I think this maxim applies to acceptance of usability in general. Having been in this profession for 30 years allows me to take the long, historical view. In particular, I remember way back when the resistance came from the techies (a time which Alan Cooper so brilliantly captured in the title of his book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum). 

Next, it seemed to come from graphic designers. Though they did us a service by adding more pleasure and delight to the user experience, they tended to divorce those considerations from more practical considerations like usability and company profit. Jakob Nielsen, for some reason, seemed to be the brunt of a lot of their disapproval.

Lately, it seems resistance is coming from the business side. In particular, I worry that all a site is these days is a sales or purchase funnel, where users are hustled along without any time to explore or ask questions – to me, at least, the online equivalent of a used car lot. Business does have the numbers on their side – with analytics, big data, and A/B testing – but do I worry that they sometimes may be missing the forest for the trees.

And then there's Agile ... Not only does this seem like the return of the techies, but it seems like, this time, they've teamed up with the business side against us.

Ah well, it’s always something, or somebody, isn't it? I actually think the dialectical nature of all this is good for usability. It shows that we can adapt, incorporate other viewpoints, and even act as a mediator sometimes.


And you thought I was making that up

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