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Re: [agile-usability] The simplest thing that could possibly be re-invented?

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  • Ron Jeffries
    ... There is value to doing the creative work that you describe. However, it is highly risky, and almost impossible to sell to most organizations. My
    Message 1 of 10 , Oct 10, 2004
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      On Friday, October 8, 2004, at 8:45:59 PM, jeff.grover@... wrote:

      > How can I more eloquently describe this to people driven by "industry standards", "competetive
      > analysis", "code reuse", and "feature envy"? And, more importantly, if I'm trying to be
      > "agile"... how can I argue the need for more rigorous user/interaction design and testing
      > (feedback), when someone else has presumably already paid for that (...or got really lucky and
      > got it right the first time)? How can I make it more obvious to feature-driven stakeholders that
      > there is inherent value in re-thinking and innovating even though pre-canned answers to tough
      > usability questions seem there for the taking (however false they may be)?

      > This of course, assumes that you agree with my premise that value exists in thinking "outside
      > the box" of existing UI that serves similar (although importantly non-identical) purposes.

      There is value to doing the creative work that you describe. However, it is
      highly risky, and almost impossible to sell to most organizations. My
      subjective impression is that most innovative human factors ideas (most
      innovative ideas in general?) come from outside the conventional
      marketing-driven product development food chain.

      Ron Jeffries
      www.XProgramming.com
      Any errors you find in this are the work of Secret Villains,
      whose mad schemes will soon be revealed. -- Wil McCarthy
    • Phlip
      ... Hence today s Dilbert episode. ===== Phlip http://industrialxp.org/community/bin/view/Main/TestFirstUserInterfaces _______________________________ Do you
      Message 2 of 10 , Oct 10, 2004
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        Michael Mahemoff wrote:

        > By now, at least some mareketers should be aware of
        > usability as a
        > potential differentiator.

        Hence today's Dilbert episode.



        =====
        Phlip
        http://industrialxp.org/community/bin/view/Main/TestFirstUserInterfaces



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      • Petteri Hiisilä
        ... I agree. Those companies have a strategy. If it ain t broken, don t fix it. ... The impacts are often slow and not easy to measure. The single biggest
        Message 3 of 10 , Oct 10, 2004
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          > First, it is important to acknowledge not all companies actually want to
          > innovate on design - they may well be more interested in copying
          > features and innovating in other areas, like cheaper development time.

          I agree. Those companies have a strategy. If it ain't broken, don't fix it.

          > By now, at least some mareketers should be aware of usability as a
          > potential differentiator. I'm sure many are aware, but are still
          > concerned about its actual impact.

          The impacts are often slow and not easy to measure.

          The single biggest benefit is substantially higher customer loyalty. If
          you already have a very useful (usable, purposeful, satistying, stable,
          high-quality) product, the competitors are in trouble.

          Everybody knows that customer loyalty is a big deal once you have it,
          but its value is very hard to predict, especially in dollars.

          As Alan Cooper put it: "After all, you can sell dirty water in the
          desert to rave reviews, but the same product elicits a different
          response in an upscale restaurant."

          http://www.cooper.com/newsletters/jan01/the_iteration_trap.htm

          What happens if you start selling the clean water in the desert too?
          What can the competitors do?

          Thus, the opposite applies: those companies whose current products don't
          satisfy customers, leave room for competition. It can be fatal. True,
          people generally accept the new, better products slowly, but once they
          have made the move, they usually don't turn back to the old vendor.

          - More satistying products have (almost?) killed Novell and Borland.
          - WordStar was replaced by WordPerfect.
          - WordPerfect was replaced by Word.
          - Word will be replaced by ??? (not OpenOffice, it's essentially an open
          source Word clone)

          It's not easy to design satisfying user interfaces, no more than it's
          easy to create clever technical architecture or efficient code. It
          requires a lot of (often new) thinking and tools. And organizational
          changes!

          Marketers are not able to design usable products with their current
          thinking. They have tools that tell what _sells_. Not what _works_. And
          even when they know what works, they don't know why it works and how to
          make their product work too. They sure know how to clone features, and
          that's what they do!

          Marketing can help when you need to get the product through the
          customers' doors. But once the product is in, that's where desireable
          design, clever engineering and quality programming starts to count.

          Best,
          Petteri

          --
          Petteri Hiisilä
          Palveluarkkitehti / Interaction Designer /
          Alma Media Interactive Oy / NWS /
          +358505050123 / petteri.hiisila@...

          "I was told there's a miracle for each day that I try"
          - John Petrucci
        • Petteri Hiisilä
          ... The marketer approach to usability: http://www.econ.au.dk/fag/4141/e2001/dilbert_easy_to_use.gif ... Best, Petteri -- Petteri Hiisilä Palveluarkkitehti /
          Message 4 of 10 , Oct 10, 2004
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            Michael Mahemoff wrote:
            > Phlip wrote:
            > > Michael Mahemoff wrote:
            > >>By now, at least some mareketers should be aware of
            > >>usability as a
            > >>potential differentiator.
            > >
            > >
            > > Hence today's Dilbert episode.
            > >
            > Funnily enough, it also does a great job of showing how long some
            > purchasers will take to choose between usability and the bottom line.

            The marketer approach to usability:

            http://www.econ.au.dk/fag/4141/e2001/dilbert_easy_to_use.gif

            :)

            Best,
            Petteri

            --
            Petteri Hiisilä
            Palveluarkkitehti / Interaction Designer /
            Alma Media Interactive Oy / NWS /
            +358505050123 / petteri.hiisila@...

            "I was told there's a miracle for each day that I try"
            - John Petrucci
          • William Pietri
            ... I think that principle is one people often misunderstand, because they confuse simple with easy . The easy thing to do is often to say, make it just
            Message 5 of 10 , Oct 10, 2004
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              On Fri, 2004-10-08 at 17:45, jeff.grover@... wrote:
              >
              > Intellectually, there is a great temptation to say the "simplest thing
              > that could possibly work" (XP/agile principle) is to do what someone
              > else held in high regard (OS vendor, competing product, open-source
              > project, well-used application) chose to do.

              I think that principle is one people often misunderstand, because they
              confuse "simple" with "easy". The easy thing to do is often to say,
              "make it just like X". But the reason they just point to X rather than
              saying what specifically they want is that X is not simple.

              Figuring out what is really the simplest thing that could possibly work
              often takes a little more thinking, as you have to understand both the
              need and the medium in enough detail so that you can pick out the simple
              solution that addresses the core need.

              > And, more importantly, if I'm trying to be "agile"... how can I argue
              > the need for more rigorous user/interaction design and testing
              > (feedback), when someone else has presumably already paid for that
              > (...or got really lucky and got it right the first time)?

              I think of most moves toward agility as tightening feedback loops. The
              best way to get user feedback is to release early and often while
              listening to your users. When you can't do that, user testing can be an
              adequate substitute. Either way, getting frequent user feedback is very
              much in tune with the agile spirit.

              Personally, I think short iterations and frequent releases make it
              easier to innovate, as you get

              * more data -- prototypes are good, but there's nothing better
              than trying the real interface on real people.
              * more design time -- agile methods allow you to overlap the
              design and construction work.
              * less pressure -- when design is no longer a phase, it stops
              being a bottlneck. That means less pressure, making it easier
              to be creative.
              * less risk -- by taking things one step at a time, your bets are
              smaller, which reduces the incentive to chose the safe,
              well-understood solution.
              * better feedback -- because you can find out how you're doing at
              each step, you have a better environment for learning how to
              make good choices.

              > How can I make it more obvious to feature-driven stakeholders that
              > there is inherent value in re-thinking and innovating even though
              > pre-canned answers to tough usability questions seem there for the
              > taking (however false they may be)?

              I think you need to make this argument in financial terms. In essence,
              you're saying that you want them to spend their money differently, so
              you have to show them how that will result in reduced costs, better
              sales, or something else that improves the bottom line.

              William
            • Michael Mahemoff
              ... First, it is important to acknowledge not all companies actually want to innovate on design - they may well be more interested in copying features and
              Message 6 of 10 , Oct 10, 2004
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                >
                > How can I more eloquently describe this to people driven by "industry
                > standards", "competetive analysis", "code reuse", and "feature envy"?
                > And, more importantly, if I'm trying to be "agile"... how can I argue
                > the need for more rigorous user/interaction design and testing
                > (feedback), when someone else has presumably already paid for that
                > (...or got really lucky and got it right the first time)? How can I
                > make it more obvious to feature-driven stakeholders that there is
                > inherent value in re-thinking and innovating even though pre-canned
                > answers to tough usability questions seem there for the taking (however
                > false they may be)?
                >

                First, it is important to acknowledge not all companies actually want to
                innovate on design - they may well be more interested in copying
                features and innovating in other areas, like cheaper development time.
                In that case, usability work is more about prototyping and early testing
                than brainstorming and exploring ideas. If management and marketing
                genuinely do want to differentiate their product, then usability can be
                an effective way to achieve it.

                By now, at least some mareketers should be aware of usability as a
                potential differentiator. I'm sure many are aware, but are still
                concerned about its actual impact. At the end of the day, they need to
                sell products. One of the complications with usability is that end-users
                might only see the benefits after some time using the product. Also, the
                purchasing decision-makers are often separated, and prefer a features
                matrix to a vague statement about usability. For these reasons, the case
                must be made that improved usability will increase the product's appeal
                among purchasers; not just that usability can be improved.

                How much experience do they have with the user base? It can be an
                incredibly powerful slap in the face for developers to sit with users
                and see how they work. The same is likely true for non-technical
                stakeholders. Arranging it might require some effort and a few tactics.
              • Michael Mahemoff
                ... Funnily enough, it also does a great job of showing how long some purchasers will take to choose between usability and the bottom line.
                Message 7 of 10 , Oct 10, 2004
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                  Phlip wrote:

                  > Michael Mahemoff wrote:
                  >
                  >
                  >>By now, at least some mareketers should be aware of
                  >>usability as a
                  >>potential differentiator.
                  >
                  >
                  > Hence today's Dilbert episode.
                  >
                  Funnily enough, it also does a great job of showing how long some
                  purchasers will take to choose between usability and the bottom line.
                • Joshua Seiden
                  Jeff Grover wrote: ... a great deal of the usability input we get whether evolutionary or revolutionary originates from or is relative to products
                  Message 8 of 10 , Oct 11, 2004
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                    Jeff Grover wrote:

                    ... a great deal of the usability input we get whether
                    "evolutionary" or "revolutionary" originates from or is
                    relative to products competing with ours or performing
                    similar functions in some other market space. Here are
                    some examples:

                    "We need a <Fill in your favorite object here> editor
                    that looks like <our competition>"
                    "Make the browsing feel like the Windows Explorer".
                    "Make the web page look like My Yahoo!, Amazon,...
                    <fill in your favorite site here>"


                    And:

                    How can I more eloquently describe this to people
                    driven by "industry standards", "competetive analysis",
                    "code reuse", and "feature envy"? And, more
                    importantly, if I'm trying to be "agile"... how can I
                    argue the need for more rigorous user/interaction
                    design and testing (feedback)


                    -----------

                    I find that when designs and solutions are expressed
                    relative to another product, it is often the sign of
                    sloppy thinking. If someone has thought through a
                    problem, there will be less need for comparison--and a
                    good chance that he or she will have some drawings,
                    documents, specifications--anything--that will express
                    that thinking more completely.

                    Your examples above are solution statements--divorced
                    from any particular problem statement. Try seeking the
                    problem. (We had a good long thread on this a while
                    ago.) Ask a simple question: "Why?" This may reveal a
                    lack of thought, or it may yield a very good answer.
                    Sometimes, when you encounter a lack of thought, you
                    will find at it's core a lack of understanding of the
                    problem space. This is where you may have a good
                    opportunity to employ a more rigorous cycle of user
                    research, interaction design and testing.

                    The potential upside is not "innovation" for its own
                    sake, but rather a solution that better fits the
                    *specific* problem you are trying to solve.

                    Thanks,
                    JS
                  • Jeff Patton
                    ... I can only agree with what s been posted so far. If there isn t a financial reason for changing the software, it s going to be a hard sell. I m hearing
                    Message 9 of 10 , Oct 11, 2004
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                      --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Joshua Seiden"
                      <joshseiden@y...> wrote:
                      >
                      >> Jeff Grover wrote:
                      >>
                      >> ... a great deal of the usability input we get whether
                      >> "evolutionary" or "revolutionary" originates from or is
                      >> relative to products competing with ours or performing
                      >> similar functions in some other market space.

                      > The potential upside is not "innovation" for its own
                      > sake, but rather a solution that better fits the
                      > *specific* problem you are trying to solve.

                      I can only agree with what's been posted so far. If there isn't a
                      financial reason for changing the software, it's going to be a hard
                      sell.

                      I'm hearing that you believe a usability person might come up with
                      better solutions than the "us-too" choices you see being made. No
                      offense to the usability people and designers on the list - but what
                      they're doing isn't so innovative - not usually. It's exactly what
                      Josh has said in his post: it's correctly identifying the goals of
                      the user and determining the simplest way to address those goals.
                      It's just remarkable how often people don't choose to identify the
                      goals of the user.

                      Ok - it's really not quite that simple. You sorta need to know
                      something about that user and the context of use as well. A little
                      experience with a few proven approaches doesn't hurt either. But
                      knowing just a little about user, goals, and context of use can go a
                      long way at disqualifying "us-too" solutions. The idea isn't to
                      disqualify them because they're not innovative - but to disqualify
                      them because they're inapropriate... inapropriate for the goals of
                      the user, their experience level and the context of use.

                      Start with identifying goals first. Ask what the user's goals are
                      until you get a good answer. Try the "popping the why stack"
                      or "poking with the why-stick" technique. If you really know the
                      goal of the feature, you often find the simplest appropriate solution
                      is also the cheapest to build.

                      Finally, consider trying to make a case for low cost usability
                      testing. By that I mean recording users actually trying to use the
                      software - using software that records the screen and the face of the
                      user running it. There are inexpensive tools that could connect to a
                      laptop and be set up quickly - say on a routine customer site visit.
                      I've heard from several people that replays of people struggling to
                      use software have at least as much political value as value in
                      identifying usability problems.

                      I understand that if designers aren't part of your current
                      development approach, it's going to be hard to explain to folks what
                      there unknown unknowns are. And, I suspect others might have
                      diagnosed part of the issue correctly? Do you currently suffer from
                      lack of competition and large market share? Those are terrible
                      burdens on usability. ;-)

                      Thanks Jeff G. for posting!

                      -Jeff
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