Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

RE: [agile-usability] Office 12 prototypes

Expand Messages
  • Larry Constantine
    ... You are so right, and my analogy fails once TDD is introduced. However, as there is no analog to TDD in UI design, nor can user tests be turned into
    Message 1 of 19 , Jan 6, 2006
    • 0 Attachment
      Alain wrote:

      > As a developper, I can't really speak confidently (at least not when
      > adressing Larry ;-)) about the relative benefits of inspecting designs
      > for usability flaws, versus getting user feedback from paper prototyping
      > or from an actual running prototype (i.e. the first point).
      >
      > But one thing I can say from experience, and which I will claim as being
      > blatantly true, is that the cheapest and most effective way of finding
      > bugs is to run the code as early as possible (i.e. Larry's second point)
      > after it has been written.
      >
      > More precisely, I am talking about Test-First Development or Test-Driven
      > Development (TDD) as it is being called nowadays.

      You are so right, and my analogy fails once TDD is introduced. However, as
      there is no analog to TDD in UI design, nor can user tests be turned into
      automated regression suites, my point stands.

      As to the research on relative cost effectiveness of inspections over
      testing, I have read it, and taken collectively it is both pretty sound and
      consistent. (Inspections do not have to be week-delayed structured
      walkthroughs; pair programming is in large part a continuous inspection
      technique.) That said, the differences diminish as the unit size goes down
      and the turn-around on testing is cut, particularly within regression
      testing. Here too, the analogy breaks down because UI design in very small
      pieces with "user testing" in very rapid iterations is generally
      impractical, even with paper prototypes.

      That'll teach me to use a programming analogy! :-)

      --Larry Constantine, IDSA
    • Dave Churchville
      ... Yes, agreed. I guess that s why they pay us the big bucks ;-) Seriously, as with most things, it depends . Some projects are not very sensitive to UI
      Message 2 of 19 , Jan 6, 2006
      • 0 Attachment
        --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Desilets, Alain" <alain.desilets@n...> wrote:
        > -- Alain:
        > That is my opinion too.
        >
        > But it doesn't really answer the "question" because there are still many
        > different points you could position yourself along the continuum, and
        > it's not clear to me where the sweet spot is. In other words, it's easy
        > to agree that you both need to do some upfront design to understand your
        > user's needs, and at the same get user feedback based on a running piece
        > of code as soon as possible. The hard part is agreeing on how much
        > upfront design is enough and how early is early enough for getting
        > feedback on a running prototype.

        Yes, agreed. I guess that's why they pay us the big bucks ;-)

        Seriously, as with most things, "it depends". Some projects are not very sensitive to UI issues, so a minor bit of up front design, and periodic feedback are fine. For others, a lot more care is needed.

        One example for me is an application I was responsible for that had "expert users" that were used to the current interface so that even minor changes were cause for concern. Consistency was also a problem when adding new features, since the development team wanted to "make it better" than previous approaches. So we needed a lot of user feedback to make sure we weren't improving things beyond the comfort level of the end users.

        I could make up a rule of thumb, but it would still depend on the individual thumb in question. OK, I'll do it anyway as a straw man:

        - Spend no more than half the required UI implementation time understanding user goals and preferences. For UI sensitive applications, get feedback at least once during an iteration using screenshots, prototypes, or whiteboard discussions.

        --Dave

        -----------------------------------
        Dave Churchville
        ExtremePlanner Software
        http://www.extremeplanner.com
        Agile Project Management for Distributed Teams
      • Desiree Sy
        ... A quick answer to this follows, but first I want to jump down ... You can t design without goals. Why? Because you won t know when your design works
        Message 3 of 19 , Jan 6, 2006
        • 0 Attachment
          At 02:45 PM 1/6/2006, Dave Churchville wrote:
          >How do you get rapid feedback on aspects of a user interface that are non-trivial to build?
          >
          >For a classic 2 week iteration on an agile project, does it make sense to just build the interface, then get feedback, and maybe redo the interface in an entirely different way?

          A quick answer to this follows, but first I want to jump down
          to a later part of Dave's post:

          >In my opinion, you're better served doing something in between - get a good sense of the goals (maybe not at the level of rigor that a pure Interaction Design enthusiast might want), and build an initial UI that meets these goals, then get a customer review of what you've got so far.

          You can't design without goals. Why? Because you won't know
          when your design works unless you're designing towards
          something. And if you don't know when it works, how will you
          know when to stop?

          Jumping back to the original question, the way that you get
          rapid feedback during 2-week iterations on a complex UI is to:

          - Separate the design iterations from the implementation iterations.
          That is, design at least one cycle/sprint ahead of the current one.
          - Chunk the design into smaller, prototypable pieces that address
          subsets of your design goals.
          - Iterate on the chunk as rapidly as possible until you hit the
          goals for that piece.
          - Move to the next chunk, and repeat. Make sure you test the full
          re-assembled workflow.
          - When you've got a verified design that allows a complete workflow
          to be finished by the user, pass the design to the development
          team to be moved into the code base.

          This is an extreme compression of a paper I presented at UPA 2005
          describing a case study of exactly this problem.

          It's not easy, but it's possible. Some of the trickiest, most
          magical parts of the process are to figure out:

          - How to break the design into pieces (which relates to prioritizing
          the design goals, and also having a good understanding of how small
          a piece you break the big design into).
          - What type of prototype to build -- what you want is to use the lowest
          possible fidelity that will correctly verify the goals you're
          checking for the chunk.
          - As mentioned by Larry, you still cannot prototype everything -- it's
          simply not efficient. So you have to have a very good understanding
          of which design goals you can meet without this iteration process,
          and for which goals it's critical that you get observable behavioural
          feedback.
          - Once you have a complete verified design for a big piece of UI, how
          to break that design into implementable chunks (because of course
          the implementation still has to be done in 2-week chunks). There's
          an art in getting those implementation pieces into production code.
          There's also a certain joy to it, because when our end-users start
          using the half-done design, they *inevitably* ask for the other half.
          Then when they get the complete UI in 2 or 4 weeks, they think we're
          freakin' wizards, and the whole team gets to bask in glory. :)

          Desirée

          --
          Desirée Sy Phone: 416-874-8296
          Interaction Designer Email: dsy@...
          Alias Fax: 416-369-6150
        • Jeff Patton
          ... To the TDD developers in the crowd this rational should sound pretty familar. Designers - those determining how the software should look and behave in
          Message 4 of 19 , Jan 8, 2006
          • 0 Attachment
            --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, Desiree Sy <dsy@a...> wrote:

            > You can't design without goals. Why? Because you won't know
            > when your design works unless you're designing towards
            > something. And if you don't know when it works, how will you
            > know when to stop?

            To the TDD developers in the crowd this rational should sound pretty
            familar.

            Designers - those determining how the software should look and behave
            in response to what a user is trying to accomplish - use user
            understanding, goals and tasks to drive design. Understanding those
            goals is the "writing the test first" bit. When a designer proposes
            a design solution, it's validated against that user, goal, and task
            understanding. If you don't have user, goal, and task understanding,
            then you're _not_ designing test first. Developers who use TDD know
            how queezy that makes them feel. Now you might get some
            understanding of how queezy UCD people feel when people suggest
            functional design without any tests - user goal and task
            understanding - to validate that design.

            As Larry suggests, you don't need real live users to do this
            testing. If you have your "tests" in place - user/goal/task
            understanding, then you can assume the role of the user engaged in a
            task and inspect on their behalf, and with your own design
            understanding engaged as well. Again, for the unit testing
            developers in the audience, this is a bit like mocking the database.
            Saying you absolutely must have a user to test functionality is like
            telling a good developer that their code absolutely must talk to the
            Oracle database to be tested. True, at some point in time you'll
            need to connect the the expense, slow, constrained resource to test -
            be it a big database, external service, or lab of hand-selected
            users. But, in the mean time you can increase test-cycle time
            by "mocking" the users in a UI inspection. [I'm referring to mock-
            object style testing here not making fun of the users - which I know
            no one does. ;-) ]

            > Jumping back to the original question, the way that you get
            > rapid feedback during 2-week iterations on a complex UI is to:
            >
            > - Separate the design iterations from the implementation iterations.
            > That is, design at least one cycle/sprint ahead of the current
            one.
            > - Chunk the design into smaller, prototypable pieces that address
            > subsets of your design goals.
            > - Iterate on the chunk as rapidly as possible until you hit the
            > goals for that piece.
            > - Move to the next chunk, and repeat. Make sure you test the full
            > re-assembled workflow.
            > - When you've got a verified design that allows a complete workflow
            > to be finished by the user, pass the design to the development
            > team to be moved into the code base.

            The important thing to unerstand about moving from user
            understanding, goals, and tasks through to a good prospective
            functional design is that it is /design/ - just like writing code is
            design. Start with tests, propose solutions, run tests, adjust
            design or add more, run tests, rinse and repeat.... UCD is very
            iterative, and very test driven. The protyping is done on paper or
            sometimes with throw-away spiked code. And, sadly the testing isn't
            automated - at least until we can come up with some cool robots with
            artificial intelligence and emotions that can simulate people with
            goals. [But if you've seen iRobot, you know what goes wrong
            there....]

            Not iterating over the design prior to handing it develpers to build
            seems to me to be a bit negligent. [that's not to say I don't do it
            myself. But it's also true that not 100% of my code is covered by
            unit tests either.] I can iterate over a dozen UI choices on paper
            in a couple hours. It's hard for any developer, including me, in any
            programming environment to outperform that.

            Thanks all for your posts on this thread!

            -Jeff
          • Larry Constantine
            Elegantly framed, Jeff. Gaining a clear understanding of your users, their intentions, and tasks *is* the UI design equivalent of TDD. I just never thought of
            Message 5 of 19 , Jan 8, 2006
            • 0 Attachment
              Elegantly framed, Jeff.

              Gaining a clear understanding of your users, their intentions, and tasks
              *is* the UI design equivalent of TDD. I just never thought of it that way
              before. In practice, we usually "test" trial designs against the task cases
              (essential use cases) to verify that the tasks can be performed with the
              design and to compare interaction efficiency to the ideal (essential form).

              --Larry Constantine, IDSA
            • Dave Churchville
              ... Actually, that s a good analogy...and another way to frame the question. To summarize, the original question centered around how to effectively get rapid
              Message 6 of 19 , Jan 8, 2006
              • 0 Attachment
                --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Jeff Patton" <jpatton@a...> wrote:
                > > You can't design without goals. Why? Because you won't know
                > > when your design works unless you're designing towards
                > > something. And if you don't know when it works, how will you
                > > know when to stop?
                >
                > To the TDD developers in the crowd this rational should sound pretty
                > familar.

                Actually, that's a good analogy...and another way to frame the question.

                To summarize, the original question centered around how to effectively get rapid feedback (iterate) on a non-trivial UI design during a typical agile sprint/iteration of 2 weeks.

                One of the suggestions was to do the design one iteration in advance of the implementation with designers handing it over to developers.

                Jeff, yours seems to be to apply a TDD style to UI design (Test Driven Design), where you can determine the goals and scenarios first, then iterate possible UIs internally against those goals before showing it to the real users (which is a relatively slow exercise). I resonate with that approach and it's consistent with what's actually worked for me in the past (since I've never worked with dedicated interface/iteraction designers).

                Obviously, many developers don't practice TDD as such, and many software teams don't test their UI designs with end users or even internal stakeholders until after a development cycle. Are they wrong?

                I'd suggest that any approach that produces good results repeatably is probably good enough from a pure business standpoint, although a craftsman might cringe at this. In fact, I'd argue that TDD done right is actually rather difficult, and requires an experienced and skilled practitioner to get a good result. Rather like good UI design.

                So that kind of suggests that a team is better off with a skillful UI designer that does very little external usability research than with a poor UI designer and substantial research.

                Maybe that explains why so much software suffers from barely usable interfaces, that only improve after several revisions of real world customer feedback.

                Can anyone tell me why I might be wrong about this?

                --Dave

                -----------------------------------
                Dave Churchville
                ExtremePlanner Software
                http://www.extremeplanner.com
                Agile Project Management for Distributed Teams
              • Desiree Sy
                ... Well, sure -- but that s just getting back to the definition of good results, which is just getting back to how you define your goals. So I feel my
                Message 7 of 19 , Jan 9, 2006
                • 0 Attachment
                  At 12:04 AM 1/9/2006, Dave Churchville wrote:
                  > I'd suggest that any approach that produces good results repeatably
                  > is probably good enough from a pure business standpoint, although a
                  > craftsman might cringe at this.

                  Well, sure -- but that's just getting back to the definition of
                  "good results," which is just getting back to how you define
                  your goals. So I feel my original point about the impossibility
                  of designing well without goals still holds.

                  > In fact, I'd argue that TDD done
                  > right is actually rather difficult, and requires an experienced and
                  > skilled practitioner to get a good result. Rather like good UI design.
                  >
                  > So that kind of suggests that a team is better off with a skillful
                  > UI designer that does very little external usability research than
                  > with a poor UI designer and substantial research.

                  I'm not going to argue that a team with someone competent is not
                  better off than one with incompetent staff. That seems self-evident.

                  However, there are two catches:

                  1. Here's a nice piece of dogmatism, but I'll stick it out there,
                  anyway, because I truly believe it: There is no such thing as
                  a skilled UI designer that does very little external usability
                  research.

                  I know that seems to contradict what I said earlier, when I stated
                  that you cannot prototype everything, nor can you test everything
                  with end-users, but actually it doesn't....

                  2. ... because the shortcuts that a very good UX person uses (empirically
                  drawn guidelines, a deep understanding of the domain for which she
                  designs, and even the depth of UI solutions available to her, etc.)
                  are drawn from her experience of having seen hundreds of users
                  testing interfaces. That's the Catch-22: you can't skip the
                  iterative design process until you've built enough knowledge to
                  know when to skip it, which you can't do until you've logged hundreds
                  of hours of iterative design, prototyping, and testing.

                  Even if you're lucky enough to hire a skilled UI designer that
                  built up that knowledge somewhere else, I would be very wary of
                  any UI designer that wouldn't insist on "external usability research"
                  for *some* aspects of UI design.

                  Which is just a long way of saying that a competent User Experience
                  practitioner will do usability investigations because for most
                  (consumer, at least) products, it's something that's required from
                  a "pure business standpoint," as you say. That's not to say that
                  we can't and shouldn't do it faster, and with much less documentation.

                  Desirée
                  Alias
                • Jared M. Spool
                  ... ... Actually, I don t believe that statement to be true. I have seen, with my own eyes, people who intuitively can design an ideal solution without
                  Message 8 of 19 , Jan 9, 2006
                  • 0 Attachment
                    At 02:39 PM 1/9/2006, Desiree Sy wrote:
                    >There is no such thing as a skilled UI designer that does very little
                    >external usability research.

                    <snip>

                    >...because the shortcuts that a very good UX person uses (empirically
                    >drawn guidelines, a deep understanding of the domain for which she
                    >designs, and even the depth of UI solutions available to her, etc.) are
                    >drawn from her experience of having seen hundreds of users testing interfaces.

                    Actually, I don't believe that statement to be true.

                    I have seen, with my own eyes, people who intuitively can design an ideal
                    solution without having conducted any external research. They approach the
                    problem, think about it for a while, and arrive at a solution that is as
                    good or better than any I could have arrived at with all the data I'd
                    collected. (In one case, one such designer arrived at a solution that
                    encapsulated 2 years of hard research -- about 70 user interviews and 50
                    field visits -- with 'a few hours of thinking about it on his deck.' I was
                    stunned at how he hit the nail on the head so accurately.)

                    There are those who walk among us who can do this. But not the majority of
                    us. Desiree is right that most skilled UI designers need to have external
                    research to guide their knowledge and decisions. *Most*, but not *all*.

                    I wish I had the talent to create designs without the external research,
                    but alas, I'm not nearly that good. Hell, I'm not even that good at
                    creating designs when I *do* have the research. I leave that to the
                    professionals...

                    Jared


                    Jared M. Spool, Founding Principal, User Interface Engineering
                    4 Lookout Lane, Unit 4d, Middleton, MA 01949
                    978 777-9123 jspool@... http://www.uie.com
                    Blog: http://www.uie.com/brainsparks
                  • Larry Constantine
                    ... I had intended to jump in with this point, but Jared beat me to it. I agree about the special few gifted intuitive (nonempirical?) designers. I have had
                    Message 9 of 19 , Jan 10, 2006
                    • 0 Attachment
                      Jared wrote:

                      > I have seen, with my own eyes, people who intuitively can design an ideal
                      > solution without having conducted any external research....
                      > There are those who walk among us who can do this. But not the majority of
                      > us. Desiree is right that most skilled UI designers need to have external
                      > research to guide their knowledge and decisions. *Most*, but not *all*.

                      I had intended to jump in with this point, but Jared beat me to it. I agree
                      about the special few gifted "intuitive" (nonempirical?) designers. I have
                      had the privilege of working with and learning from some of the best visual
                      and interaction designers on the planet, pros who can hit the target square
                      on without benefit of external research and minimal reliance on user
                      testing. I have noticed a few things about those among us who can design
                      well in this manner. (You know me, I always want to understand what is going
                      on when I see someone doing magic.) The term "intuitive" is appealing, but I
                      think there may be some specific talents and techniques behind the widget
                      wizardry, and maybe we can learn from what such magicians do.

                      Most of them are strong visual thinkers. They not only can visualize designs
                      quickly, even without putting pencil to paper or marker to board, but they
                      are able to carry out gedanken experiments to evaluate their designs,
                      rapidly walking through imaginary interaction scenarios in their heads. I
                      have been on teams where the group struggled to come up with alternatives
                      while a star designer sat quietly constructing and testing mental prototypes
                      before describing a brilliant combination.

                      They are also good at what social psychologists refer to as role taking,
                      that is, they can easily take on the role of or put themselves in the
                      position of particular users. Often they seem to be able literally to see
                      how something might look to someone else. These role-taking designers often
                      make strikingly good guesses about how particular kinds of users will act
                      and react even in arenas in which they have little or no subject matter
                      expertise or experience.

                      It may be a related faculty that they tend to be good at what Meilir
                      Page-Jones calls "dereferencing." They can consciously step out of the
                      frame, as it were, to get a new perspective on a problem. This serves them
                      well not only in creative idea generation, but also in being able to step
                      back and look with a fresh and critical eye at their own ideas to see where
                      there will be problems.

                      Indeed, many of the best are fanatically persistent problem solvers who
                      worry away at working through toward that ideal solution. They are far more
                      invested in finding the best solution than most designers I have known, yet
                      they have less ego-investment in their own ideas or in any particular
                      approach.

                      There is probably much more to it--could be a good topic for an article
                      sometime--but these are a start in terms of what might be going on with the
                      best intuitive/nonempirical designers: visual thinking, gedanken
                      experiments, role taking, dereferencing, and fanatical focus on solutions.
                      Some of these are possibly largely matters of brain wiring (such as visual
                      thinking), but others might be learnable skills to some degree.

                      --Larry Constantine, IDSA
                    • kauerrolemodel
                      ... an ideal ... taking... ... Hello Larry, et al... I m new to this group at the invitation of Mr. Patton. Some of you may know who RoleModel Software is
                      Message 10 of 19 , Jan 18, 2006
                      • 0 Attachment
                        --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Larry Constantine"
                        <lconstantine@f...> wrote:
                        > Jared wrote:
                        > > I have seen, with my own eyes, people who intuitively can design
                        an ideal
                        > > solution without having conducted any external research....
                        >
                        > [snip]
                        > Most of them are strong visual thinkers...
                        > They are also good at what social psychologists refer to as role
                        taking...
                        > It may be a related faculty that they tend to be good at what Meilir
                        > Page-Jones calls "dereferencing."...
                        > Indeed, many of the best are fanatically persistent problem solvers...

                        Hello Larry, et al...

                        I'm new to this group at the invitation of Mr. Patton. Some of you
                        may know who RoleModel Software is (http://rolemodelsoftware.com), as
                        we were the first custom software development company that I know of
                        that committed themselves to building software with XP. We made that
                        decision in 1998 and have been doing it ever since (though we were
                        doing very little of it several years ago when software gigs were hard
                        for anyone to come by).

                        I've been doing custom software development for years in an agile way
                        (before we knew that we should call it agile), first in Smalltalk
                        (where I pair-programmed as often as anyone would let me and had my
                        most successful projects in team rooms). When I started my business,
                        I was trying to figure out how to market what I believed was the best
                        way to develop software, and Kent finally convinced me that if you do
                        all of the practices all of the time - or at least make them the rule
                        rather than the exception - you had a viable sustainable process and
                        there was data to prove it... he didn't tell me that the proof was
                        left to the adopter :-).

                        I've had teams with "usability" people on them, and I've had some
                        without. Generally, the teams with the usability people on them had
                        more pleasant user interfaces and bigger budgets to get there. I've
                        seen software developers have a pretty good intuitive feel for
                        usability issues, and have certainly become more sensitive to it
                        myself over time. When you have developers like that talking to
                        customers/end-users who don't have blinders on, I really haven't seen
                        the value (relative to cost) for a usability expert to be brought in.
                        Sometimes, access to end-users are hard to get for a variety of
                        reasons (almost never good ones, in my book, but they are reasons
                        nonetheless). It takes a special kind of person who I'm still looking
                        for to get enough input from end users who are hard to get access to
                        when project sponsors are the ones blocking your access.

                        Unfortunately, in my world, it's VERY difficult to know ahead of time
                        what I'm going to face until we're into the project awhile. And I
                        have to quote a price for a project before I have enough data to know
                        whether I can get away with little outside usability help or need a
                        lot (or need a new project sponsor).

                        So, I have two questions:

                        1. How do you work around this problem realistically? (I'd prefer
                        input from people who have tried things and been successful... I've
                        gotten pretty good at assessing new clients/projects with very little
                        introduction... I'm not talking about hypothetical situations, I'm
                        talking real ones).

                        2. Having learned how to negotiate projects where I have SOME slack to
                        bring in usability experts when my development team is either weak in
                        this area or just needs more concentrated help, I currently find
                        myself in a situation where I have some budget to bring in the right
                        kind of help for one or more projects I have going right now that are
                        either in their early stages or just getting started. Is there anyone
                        out there that thinks they might have the right skills and time
                        available in the next few months to work through this with me in North
                        Carolina? If so, please respond to me privately and we can talk about
                        possibilities.

                        Ken
                      • Peter Boersma
                        ... Welcome! ... Isn t this true for both the usability work and the software development costs? Or do you need an expert at estimating the usability
                        Message 11 of 19 , Jan 19, 2006
                        • 0 Attachment
                          Ken wrote:

                          > I'm new to this group at the invitation of Mr. Patton.

                          Welcome!

                          > Unfortunately, in my world, it's VERY difficult to know ahead of time
                          > what I'm going to face until we're into the project awhile. And I have
                          > to quote a price for a project before I have enough data to know
                          > whether I can get away with little outside usability help or need a lot
                          > (or need a new project sponsor).

                          Isn't this true for both the usability work and the software development
                          costs? Or do you need an expert at estimating the usability complexities of
                          the project, just like you estimate the complexity of the software required?

                          > [..] How do you work around this problem realistically? (I'd prefer
                          > input from people who have tried things and been successful... I've
                          > gotten pretty good at assessing new clients/projects with very little
                          > introduction... I'm not talking about hypothetical situations, I'm
                          > talking real ones).

                          At my previous employer we developed a use-csase based estimation model with
                          complexity scales for software and usability. As soon as a first use case
                          model could be drafted, an estimate for the workload of several competences
                          (software architects, developers, QA-staff, front-end developers and user
                          experience designers) could be derived.
                          The model was built using historical data; we could compare the data over
                          projects because most of our projects were the same (transactional
                          applications for government agencies). It was evaluated and updated annualy
                          by feeding the data from the year's projects into it.

                          Peter
                          --
                          Peter Boersma | Consultant User Experience | User Intelligence
                          Vlaardingenlaan 9d | 1059 GL | Amsterdam, The Netherlands
                          p: +31-20-4084296 | m: +31-6-15072747 | f: +31-20-4084298
                          mailto:boersma@... | http://www.peterboersma.com/blog
                        • Larry Constantine
                          Ken, Good to see you checking in here. ... Developers with insight and some skills and willingness to collaborate with both end-users and customers can
                          Message 12 of 19 , Jan 19, 2006
                          • 0 Attachment
                            Ken,

                            Good to see you checking in here.

                            > I've had teams with "usability" people on them, and I've had some
                            > without. Generally, the teams with the usability people on them had
                            > more pleasant user interfaces and bigger budgets to get there. I've
                            > seen software developers have a pretty good intuitive feel for
                            > usability issues, and have certainly become more sensitive to it
                            > myself over time. When you have developers like that talking to
                            > customers/end-users who don't have blinders on, I really haven't seen
                            > the value (relative to cost) for a usability expert to be brought in.
                            > Sometimes, access to end-users are hard to get for a variety of
                            > reasons (almost never good ones, in my book, but they are reasons
                            > nonetheless). It takes a special kind of person who I'm still looking
                            > for to get enough input from end users who are hard to get access to
                            > when project sponsors are the ones blocking your access.

                            Developers with insight and some skills and willingness to collaborate with
                            both end-users and customers can certainly turn out decent user interfaces.
                            Indeed, Lucy and I have made our marks in part by training developers in
                            interaction design and usability. So, there is no magic that people with one
                            set of initials after their names can have that is unavailable to those with
                            a different set.

                            But, yes, enhanced usability does not come free (at least not usually)
                            anymore than does any of the other "ilities" of software. One could reverse
                            your assertion by noting that projects with lower budgets did not have
                            usability people and ended up with less "pleasant" user interfaces.
                            Actually, that choice of adjective says a lot about what was being purchased
                            by having usability people involved. I aim a lot higher in my work. Indeed,
                            "pleasant" design and user satisfaction rarely figure high in my agenda,
                            which is dominated by reducing training time, cutting errors, speeding up
                            task completion, and the like. And that's why one should include usability
                            (people, process,...) in the budget.

                            > Unfortunately, in my world, it's VERY difficult to know ahead of time
                            > what I'm going to face until we're into the project awhile. And I
                            > have to quote a price for a project before I have enough data to know
                            > whether I can get away with little outside usability help or need a
                            > lot (or need a new project sponsor).

                            A perennial problem for all of us. That is why I only work on a
                            time-and-travel basis.

                            As with programming, one tends to get what usability one pays for. If you
                            only budget for a day of some outside expert's time to "look over" the UI
                            and "make some recommendations" you will not get a lot to show for it--but
                            you should get something. On the other hand, if you bring in a good
                            interaction designer to become part of your team and work through the whole
                            contract, you should get a whole lot, including some "technology transfer"
                            as your team learns more about usability and how to improve it.

                            As to real world experience with agile usability, I've had a fair amount of
                            it, some better than others. On one project for McKesson, we invested in
                            heavy BDUF, then went into a classic XP iterative development. That project
                            went swimmingly well and has been written up in two papers at foUSE 2002 and
                            forUse 2003. (I'll send .PDFs to anyone who asks for them.) But it doesn't
                            address your dilemma, as UI was a major budget item because the whole name
                            of the game was cutting training for nurses, reducing medical mistakes, and
                            speeding up patient management.

                            Larry Constantine, IDSA
                          • Jeff Patton
                            ... Let me see if I can connect Larry s comments above and yours. Ken you mentioned a sensitivity to usability issues, and I m not sure I ve seen it as that -
                            Message 13 of 19 , Jan 20, 2006
                            • 0 Attachment
                              --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "kauerrolemodel"
                              <kenauer@r...> wrote:
                              >
                              > --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Larry Constantine"
                              > <lconstantine@f...> wrote:
                              > > Jared wrote:
                              > > > I have seen, with my own eyes, people who intuitively can design
                              > an ideal
                              > > > solution without having conducted any external research....
                              > >
                              > > [snip]
                              > > Most of them are strong visual thinkers...
                              > > They are also good at what social psychologists refer to as role
                              > taking...
                              > > It may be a related faculty that they tend to be good at what Meilir
                              > > Page-Jones calls "dereferencing."...
                              > > Indeed, many of the best are fanatically persistent problem solvers...
                              >
                              > I've had teams with "usability" people on them, and I've had some
                              > without. Generally, the teams with the usability people on them had
                              > more pleasant user interfaces and bigger budgets to get there. I've
                              > seen software developers have a pretty good intuitive feel for
                              > usability issues, and have certainly become more sensitive to it
                              > myself over time. When you have developers like that talking to
                              > customers/end-users who don't have blinders on, I really haven't seen
                              > the value (relative to cost) for a usability expert to be brought in.

                              Let me see if I can connect Larry's comments above and yours. Ken you
                              mentioned a sensitivity to usability issues, and I'm not sure I've
                              seen it as that - not exactly. I find myself fairly insensitive to
                              usability issues at times. In my current role I've been dubbed the
                              "human factors person" which means developers and business analysts
                              come up to me a dozen times a day and ask me how something should
                              look, or "is this better that that?" I find I can't really answer
                              their questions - I just don't know. But, I then begin to ask them a
                              bit about the person using the software. "Who are they? what do they
                              know? What are they trying to accmplish when they'd see this on the
                              screen?" As soon as I can build a mental model in my head of the
                              person, then I can answer the questions. I've never seen it as being
                              good at usability so much as being good at empathy. Larry's comments
                              about role taking and de-referencing hit home there.

                              I believe the ability to do that comes naturally to some people. This
                              may be the type of developer you're describing Ken. Of course there's
                              also the visual thinking thing, and bit of visual design aptitude
                              doesn't hurt either. But the role-taking thing I think is essential.

                              [I've got prior rants on self-centered design vs. user centered design
                              - basically people with design opinions that can't or won't role take
                              are self-centered designers since all design decisions they make are
                              made from their own perspective.]

                              While the ability to role-take may come naturally to some, it doesn't
                              mean that if you don't have it you're out of luck. Asking questions
                              about users, observing them, talking with them - all of this is user
                              research. If you write all that stuff down, represent it some way,
                              you've built a model that represents your understanding of the user.
                              If, as you make evaluations about good and bad UI, you try to make
                              them from the perspective of what you know about that user, you're
                              starting to do that role taking.

                              Building these types of models repeatedly strengthens your role-taking
                              muscles. My assertion here is that if you don't naturally have
                              strong role-taking muscles, you can exercise to strenthen them. If
                              you're already strong at it, exercising makes you even stronger.

                              Pretend for a moment you had a couch to move up a flight of stairs and
                              you just didn't have the strength to do it. I'd go find a big strong
                              person to move it. Pretend you moved couches for a living, and you
                              didn't have the strength to do it. You can't have a big strong guy
                              follow you around, so you'll have to do a bit of weight lifting to get
                              that strength.

                              If you're in the business of building software, building up that
                              end-user empathy helps you make the dozens of day to day decisions
                              that affect the product features it has, and how it looks and works.
                              You can hire a person already strong at it - a usability expert - a
                              strong couch-mover. Or you could give everyone on the team a bit of
                              understanding on how user centered design works, and some exercises to
                              help them do a little usability strength training. You may not need a
                              heavyweight usability person if a few of your people can double up on
                              problems and work together.

                              Ken I'm hearing that you've observed that when you have developers
                              with those skills, you don't need the expert. I'll second Larry's
                              suggestion that training rank and file developers is a good way to go.
                              I'm a victim of that strategy. Five years ago now Larry & Lucy
                              trained this rank and file developer.

                              > Sometimes, access to end-users are hard to get for a variety of
                              > reasons (almost never good ones, in my book, but they are reasons
                              > nonetheless). It takes a special kind of person who I'm still looking
                              > for to get enough input from end users who are hard to get access to
                              > when project sponsors are the ones blocking your access.

                              Strong couch movers can get that sofa up the stairs fast. Weeklings
                              can't. You've got to make the most of yout time with user. Those
                              experienced with doing UCD stuff have a few more tools in their
                              toolbelt to make the best use of that time. If they're good they can
                              come away from a little user exposure with understanding and models
                              that help the rest of the team empathize or role-take.

                              One final note on end users: I very often see users as self-centered
                              designers [reference the comment above]. By that I mean they make
                              decisions purely from their own perspecive. This can be dangerous if
                              you're asking one type of user to speak, give information, or make
                              decisions on behalf of another type of user. What you're really doing
                              is asking them to role-take. And, I suspect they're no better at it
                              than the average developer is.

                              Being able to understand and assume the role of a user of the software
                              and make judgments on their behalf seems like a cornerstone of user
                              centered design approaches - at least some of them. For me, it's the
                              only thing that allows me to make the day to day decisions I need to
                              about the look, feel, and behavior of the software.

                              Thanks for posting Ken.

                              -Jeff
                            Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.