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Re: [agile-usability] Re: Office 12 prototypes

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  • 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 1 of 19 , Jan 6, 2006
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      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 2 of 19 , Jan 8, 2006
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        --- 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 3 of 19 , Jan 8, 2006
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          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 4 of 19 , Jan 8, 2006
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            --- 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 5 of 19 , Jan 9, 2006
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              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 6 of 19 , Jan 9, 2006
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                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 7 of 19 , Jan 10, 2006
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                  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 8 of 19 , Jan 18, 2006
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                    --- 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 9 of 19 , Jan 19, 2006
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                      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 10 of 19 , Jan 19, 2006
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                        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 11 of 19 , Jan 20, 2006
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                          --- 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
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