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Re: [agile-usability] test-driven iterative user centered design - was Re: Office 12 prototypes

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  • 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 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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 5 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 6 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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