Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Economist discusses user experience

Courtesy of Putting People First, I found this great article on the need to improve the user experience of computers from The Economist.

A few excerpts:

Consider the Nokia 6680 mobile phone, says Adam Greenfield, an expert in computing culture at New York University and the author of “Everyware”, a book about the future of computing. He found that 13 clicks were needed to change its ringtone. “It's an interface designed by engineers for engineers,” he says.


Making computers simpler to operate would help the people who use them and the companies that produce them. Ease of use is one area where technology firms can differentiate themselves and gain competitive advantage.


But making computers simpler to use will require more than novel input devices. Smarter software is needed, too. For example, much effort is going into the development of “context aware” systems that hide unnecessary clutter and present options that are most likely to be relevant, depending on what the user is doing.


Cars fitted with sensors and cameras collect data on the driving styles of test participants, including their acceleration and braking patterns, assertiveness in changing lanes, and so on. The navigation computer then picks a route that accommodates each driver's strengths and weaknesses. The system works fine—but when drivers are told what is happening, they get angry. This suggests, says Mr Dey, that contextual computing needs to be discreet: such systems are, in effect, judging people and trying to influence their behaviour. Systems that manipulate people, he says, may have to keep quiet about it to work.
Good stuff.

Rating UX practitioners

Joshua Ledwell has an interesting post over at Compete On Usability called "UX practitioners rated." The comments are also worth reading, because Lou Rosenfeld, who runs the UX Zeitgeist page, has jumped in with some explanations of the effort.

I had to jump in as well.

(Side note: I originally only used Joshua's first name in this post, but then I thought, "Without the last name, Yahoo won't know who I'm talking about, and Joshua will lose some well-earned zeitgeist! Better add the last name..." )

Friday, September 7, 2007

Are bad personas better than no personas?

The latest UIEtips article has an interview with Steve Mulder about personas. Here's an interesting exchange:

UIE: When design teams don't have the time or budget to perform user research, do you recommend teams create personas based on who they believe the users of their web site or design really are?

Steve: I think personas not based on actual user research are absolutely better than no personas at all. A lot of customer and user knowledge already exists in many organizations, and by looking at the sales, marketing, product, customer support, and tech support perspectives, you can bring all these existing bits of knowledge together into personas without talking to any actual end user. If you design teams can't easily talk with ends users, this is the most effective way to try out personas for the first time.

I understand what Mulder is saying here, but I'm not convinced. The issue is that lots of people think they know about users, but they are often wrong (or myopic based on their own experiences). They rely on anecdotal evidence, faulty assumptions, and personal bias to make design decisions. If you take that and build a persona from it, all you are doing is formalizing the mistake. And that makes it even harder to correct in the future. And in my experience, even if you think everyone understands that these quasi-personas are a first step towards real personas, at some point someone will question the future investment in user research because "We already have personas!"

It's rarely the case that doing something badly is better than not doing it at all.