Interaction design vs. Usability -> differences incompetency

20 Jul 2004 - 7:46am
10 years ago
6 replies
353 reads
Garrick Van Buren
2004

Guaranteeing a project is useful, usable, and desirable is a
responsibility of the project team throughout the project. 'Usability
testing' late in the development process only tells the team what
they've done wrong. Usability is a component of interaction design and
as such needs to be developed and refined continuously. All three legs
of the 'design trinity' should be the responsibility of everyone on the
team throughout the development process.

I don't see an issue with a single person driving the usability and
overall interaction design of a given project. By that same token, I
don't see a need to pit interaction design and usability against each
other. Ultimately, it comes down to the culture and the work. It
doesn't matter if a specific organizational climate is more responsive
to the title 'interaction designer' and 'usability engineer' - the work
still needs to be done. There are a number of methods for determining
how to improve the usefulness, usability, and desirability of a project
- formal in-the-lab usability evaluation is just one of them

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Garrick Van Buren, Behavior Strategist

ph: 612 325 9110 vanburen at workingpathways.com
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Working Pathways LLC
Improving Business Process in Retail, Travel, & Technology

http://workingpathways.com

The Work Better Weblog
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On Jul 20, 2004, at 7:20 AM, David Heller wrote:

> I think it is good to explore the boundaries of our discipline, but I
> want
> to re-iterate one of our founding principles here that it is really
> difficult to speak about people and the titles they carry. I'm sure
> there
> are many usability engineers who have to practice interaction design
> as part
> of their role, but that does not mean that usability and interaction
> design
> are not distinct disciplines, which are part of a greater whole.
>
> I would like responses to Dan's message (if any) take that point of
> view,
> that Dan is talking about the discpline and not the people. Usability
> is but
> one part of the puzzle, and interaction design offers views into other
> parts
> of the puzzle as well. Many many practitioners are forced to do many
> many
> roles all at once.
>
> So please don't chime in and say, but "I do a lot more than testing and
> other forms of validation."
>
> -- dave
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
> [mailto:discuss-interactiondesigners.com-
> bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.
> com] On Behalf Of Dan Saffer
> Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 8:07 AM
> To: zayera at bluewin.ch; 'Interaction Discussion'
> Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] Interaction design vs. Usability ->
> differences
> incompetency
>
> Well, one main difference is that designers create things. Usability
> experts can only test things that are already created. Huge difference
> there.
>
> "Usable" is only one third of the (by now almost cliche) design trinity
> of usable, useful, and desirable. Designers care about things that
> usability folks don't. We have problems to solve (making things useful
> and desirable) that simply aren't in the realm of usability and its
> methodology.
>
> This being said, usability experts are great to have around. It's bad
> practice to be your own usability tester; you are biased about the
> stuff you made and you know how it is supposed to work. It's the reason
> you don't typically have developers testing their own code. But you
> need to have some clear boundaries about when the usability tester gets
> involved in the design process and the type of input they have.
>
> This depends on the people involved, of course. Some usability folks
> are well-versed in what we do and respect design. Others, well,
> (*cough* Jakob *cough*) need to be educated a little more.
>
> Dan
>
>
>
>
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Comments

20 Jul 2004 - 8:36am
Dan Saffer
2003

It was never my intention to pit usability vs. interaction design. Far
from it. Any interaction designer worth his or her salt knows to keep
the best usability practices in mind when designing.

But to my mind they are different approaches that, in an ideal
situation, would be practiced by two different individuals instead of
by one. It is difficult to test your own design--I've done it before. I
much prefer wincing behind a one-way mirror. :)

Dan

20 Jul 2004 - 10:04pm
Anirudha Joshi
2003

>>Another issues seems also to be a Geographical & Cultural one...where
both
competencies are perceived and enacted differently depending on which
Country & Culture we are talking about. In my case it is Swedish vs.
Swiss :-( Even though both European, these cultures and work mentally
differ very much.

Interesting note about culture, countries and who does what.

I think to an extent it is dependent on how the academic world is
organized. In India, for example, a large percentage of people in the
user experience field come from one of the Indian design schools. Most
Indian usability professionals with background in psychology on the
other hand, have been to a university in either US or UK.

Anirudha

20 Jul 2004 - 10:14am
Bennett, Louise
2005

On Jul 20, 2004, Dan Saffer wrote:

>Please enlighten me then as to what usability engineers do: how their
>process differs from that of interaction designers. Are they creating
>products from scratch or simply modifying existing designs to solve
>usability problems? My guess is that anyone who is a "usability
>engineer" and doing the former is really practicing interaction design
>under a different title.

Wow - a bit of deja vu happening here.....

As a Usability Engineer I'd like to define what I do - maybe people can comment on whether their UE role is similar.

There are 3 aspects to my role: analysis, interaction design, evaluation. When I first started working with IAs in the late 90's they were quite perplexed as to how I could be a UE but also be doing what they saw as their role (interaction design). In their opinion UE's just tested designs. When in fact, I thought they were lacking in that they only did one spoke of the wheel ;) As for analysis, which is probably the most important role of all three - they had no knowledge of that whatsoever!

>From what I've been able to make out over the past 10 years or so in this field, some people specialise in one area and others do all three. It really depends on the organisation you're working in and the size of the team as to whether you have the luxury of doing one sub-role within the UE Discipline. As to what you call yourself, I think you just pick whatever is going to work in the context of your world so that you can get the job done. Like Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman - "I'll be whoever you want me to be".

Louise

Louise Bennett
Principal Usability Engineer
louise.bennett at iona.com
-------------------------------------------------------
IONA Technologies
200 West Street Waltham, MA 02451
Tel: (781) 902-8336
Fax: (781) 902-8001
Cell: (781) 354-9501
-------------------------------------------------------
Making Software Work Together TM

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20 Jul 2004 - 10:16am
ErikaOrrick
1969

It has been my experience that Usability Engineer = Interaction Designer. People seem to be more familiar with the UE term (techies like Engineer v. Designer).

Erika

---
Erika Orrick
erika at orrickweb.com

________________________________

From: Dan Saffer [mailto:dan at odannyboy.com]
Sent: Tue 7/20/2004 10:00 AM
To: Elizabeth Buie; 'Interaction Designers'
Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] Interaction design vs. Usability -> differences incompetency

On Jul 20, 2004, at 10:11 AM, Elizabeth Buie wrote:

> Usability *testers* can only test things that are already
> created. Usability *engineers* may also design them.
>

Please enlighten me then as to what usability engineers do: how their
process differs from that of interaction designers. Are they creating
products from scratch or simply modifying existing designs to solve
usability problems? My guess is that anyone who is a "usability
engineer" and doing the former is really practicing interaction design
under a different title.

Dan

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20 Jul 2004 - 12:43pm
Dave Collins
2004

>What does the usability engineer do when there IS an interaction
designer on the team?

She engineers what the designer designs?

Dave

20 Jul 2004 - 8:33pm
Todd Warfel
2003

I'll heed Dave's gentle warning about titles and focus more on the
actual tasks and goals of each discipline.

First, these disciplines (research, design, usability) are
interdependent. It's difficult, or nearly impossible, to create an
optimal product without all of these disciplines playing along
together. They need each other.

For the sake of argument (or conversation) I'll speak of design as
encompassing IA, interaction/interface design, and visual design. Each
of these, IMHO, are distinct, but each of these is a type of design.
So, to prevent this from being too long, I'm just going to lump these
together - breaking them down further is a whole different discussion.

So, forgetting about titles, but focusing on what each of the
disciplines "focuses" on, in our experience, practice, and
observation...

Research - focuses on discovery; has the goal of uncovering audiences,
goals, task analysis
Usability - focuses on deconstruction, analysis, and measuring against
metrics; can be considered a type of research; usability doesn't build
it deconstructs
Design - focuses on construction; is fed by research (both from
research and from usability); guided by a set of principles (which may
be born from research and usability)

Now, I think it's safe to say that there is overlap between research
and usability. I think we can all agree that as designers, you probably
employ some research - all good designers do (IMHO). But most
importantly, these disciplines (should) rely on each other, not be
pitted against each other.

This isn't to say that someone can't do research and usability, or
another can't do usability and design, etc. Call yourself what you
want.

Incidentally, I think titles in our industry carry less weight because
people still don't understand it. Several months ago, I changed my
answer to the common question of "So, what do you do?" I used to say
"I'm a user experience architect," followed by a puzzled look and a
response of "What's that?" To which I would reply "You want the short
answer, or the long answer..."

Now, I simply say "Design and usability," which gets a much better
response of "Oh, that's pretty cool. We need more of your kind."

People outside our industry don't get our titles, but they understand
what we do if we say "design, research, or usability."

Cheers!

Todd R. Warfel
Partner, Design and Usability Specialist
MessageFirst | making products easier to use
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Contact Info
voice: (607) 339-9640
email: twarfel at messagefirst.com
web: www.messagefirst.com
aim: twarfel at mac.com
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In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

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