Friday, July 17, 2009

Usability does not matter…

…anymore than Security and Performance

I am not going to ever have another argument about whether usability is important. That is so 1990’ies. I will walk away from every such discussion saving my breath.

I just needed to get this off my chest.

I think we are almost over the “is design important” discussion and soon, hopefully within the next 5 years or so, we will also be over the “does it really matter to establish an emotional connection to people in your product design” question. I am looking forward to that day.

Till then, still lots of convincing to be done.

I hate ‘users’

Users are Humans, not users. The word ‘user’ is looking at people through a product lens as if their purpose in life is to use that particular product. But users are not users. Users are human beings of flesh and blood who behave in predictably irrational ways, with real goals and dreams and jobs and most importantly of all, with other things going on in their life than using our product.

It can be a bitter pill to swallow when you pour your heart into your work, your oeuvre, the application that will solve these users every need and then being told that your application is less important, a lot less important to these people that you could hope and wish for.

Don’t get me wrong. Not thinking about the people who are going to use your product in some way is just fundamentally wrong. But on the other hand, when we talk about User Centered Design today, it sounds as old fashioned and as inhumane as Business process reengineering.

Do I have an alternative? Sure, it is about building on Don Norman’s concept of activity centered design, having the right understanding of how human works, and Dan Ariely and  Dan Lockton both add significantly to that understanding, and then we must talk to actual people who will use actually the product, and we must keep talking to these people throughout the product cycle.

But really, it starts much simpler than that. Instead of saying “what will the users want?” say “what will the people who are going to user our product want?”. It is a small change, just a few more words, but I find it really changes how you think.


All of this may seem a little abstract. A friend of mine pointed me to this Argentinean example of adapting to real people.

Summary: In Argentine Pepsi is pronounced Pecsi by a significant number of people. Pepsi embraces that and launches Pecsi.

I love it. Instead of trying to reinforce the name, they change it to what people call it anyway and play on it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Useful? yes. Usable? yes. Desirable? not so much…

They built it in April: This curb along First Avenue South just south of King Street was a crooked mess. The acting street-department head blames the haphazard construction on a lack of communication between crew and supervisors.  

Today Seattle Times ran a story on what can only be described as sloppy work by the Seattle street department. See the picture above for an example of a curb that had to be remade three times. The first question that comes to mind is how anyone would walk away from a piece of work like that straight faced. And the second question is how often something similar happens in software products or other products.

The article is an instructional piece on what can go wrong when the culture of a group is mismanaged. But it is also a great piece on when the designers and the crew do not communicate and when neither is willing to give in and listen.

I don’t think a lot of bad code is actually shipped, but I do think there is quite a few products where the various pieces of code fit together about as well as the curb stones in the picture above.

I also think that the Seattle Street department is not the only one marred by designs from less than fully informed designers:

Homeowners couldn't get out of their driveways without scraping the bottom of their cars after a new sidewalk was installed in December 2007 in the 8200 block of Ravenna Avenue Northeast. Bookman said the problem stemmed from poor design. The project designer was a relatively young, new hire who left the department shortly after the work was completed, he said.