Actually, You Might Be Your User

24 Jul 2010 - 11:19am
4 years ago
4 replies
801 reads
Jared M. Spool
2003

Hello everyone,

One tension that frequently arises in trying to design usable systems is this idea that we're not our user and therefore we can't see the design the way they do. That's why we employ techniques such as usability testing, field studies, and personas.

But, what happens when we are the users? When we are designing for ourselves?

I wrote about this in a little piece I call "Actually, You Might Be Your User"

What do you think?

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool@uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com  Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks  Twitter: @jmspool

Comments

24 Jul 2010 - 1:25pm
Dave Malouf
2005

Hi Jared, there are many examples of design "for me" that are successful. Harley Davidson is probably one of my long term favorites. Most industrial designer work from this perspective of gaining "just enough" insight beyond themselves but truly design from their POV.

But let's look at your 2 examples a bit deeper.
Regarding 37Signals, they are a success and claim they design soley for themselves. But they are not w/o solid insight into heuristics and this is probably 1 of the areas of UX that people ignore the most. We can learn from the past. We can learn from theory and discussions and apply them w/o testing them. To me that is not "self design" but definitely highly contextual. (No designer/developer is an island and it is hard to avoid influences.  Further your own examples are actually stated by quite a few people as core methods for gaining insights into user validation. So while they aren't doing usability testing, they are basically using qualitative analytics and gaining empathy through those methods.

Regarding Apple. Their roots is from PARC (the grand daddy of all UCD institutions) people like Tog, Norman and Raskin have literally contributed to the cannon of UX/Design/HCI literature. Probably more than any single organization their contribution to the insights of designing for human beings ranks highest. But putting that aside for a moment. They have always had a human interface design group (starting with Raskin) under 1 title or another. Their thoughtfulness of the human being is not guided by "self" at all the same way that 37Signal's is (which really isn't). The claims of no UCD methods I feel have been sorely exaggerated as well as based on limited understanding of UCD methods. Also, your piece limits UX to UCD which I don't believe is true. While testing may remain internal to the organization there are so many population types within their organization that it is easy for them to get critical mass of validation among such a large group of people. Yup, internal, but still useful.

Something I have been doing in my UCD research class lately is concentrating less on "active observation" techniques like Contextual Inquiry, where we follow along and interview people in context, and more on "participatory observation" where we immerse ourselves as the primary subject where we can observe/deconstruct our own experience while also passively observing the other towards the goal of gaining insights (been staying away from the term "empathy" of late). We are also going to concentrate on 2ndary resources for gaining insights as well.

While traditional methods of validation and insight gathering are valid, the marketplace can't afford to always do these and regardless of their availability if you cannot articulate your own deconstructed POV of the world you will not actually really be able to understand others whom you observe and interrogate nearly as well.

While I think it is overstated that you are never the user, I do think that going "outside" of oneself is still required in order just to understand yourself as that user and to be open to the great differences at the growing subtle layers that separate us.

-- dave

25 Jul 2010 - 12:13pm
Yvonnia Martin
2009
"...concentrating less on "active observation" techniques like Contextual Inquiry, where we follow along and interview people in context, and more on "participatory observation"
where we immerse ourselves as the primary subject where we can observe/deconstruct our own experience while also passively observing the other towards the goal of gaining insights".


Dave, I could not agree with you more! As I have been engaging in contextual inquiry interviews and usability testing, "immersion" has become sort of a natural progression. As of late, I have become very "self-aware" in my experiences and interactions with systems. Those self checkout systems in the grocery stores have fallen victim to my rants, because not only do I experience the system, I evaluate it and make recommendations. So there I am at register 6--yelling about how one of the buttons is mis-labled or how some part of the process is counterintuitive. And then my husband has to tell me to shut up and keep walking Laughing. My only concern is "am I subjecting my work to a bias?"

But another note: you gain a great deal of insight into pain points by just conversing with someone else who is also stepping through the experience at the same time you are (of course it only works in certain scenarios).

Just my 2 cents.

--Yvonnia

25 Jul 2010 - 8:05pm
Jarod Tang
2007

"Self-design" may indicate one key factor ( "long term real experience as a user"), which distinguish normal "participatory observation". It's first more person view more ("I feels pain or pleasure for this") than 3rd person view (observation, "he may feels painful").

Jared, your thoughts?

Br,
Jarod

On Mon, Jul 26, 2010 at 1:13 AM, Yvonnia Martin <yvonnia12377@hotmail.com> wrote:

/"...concentrating less on "active observation" techniques like Contextual Inquiry, where we follow along and interview people in context, and more on "participatory observation"
where we immerse ourselves as the primary subject where we can observe/deconstruct our own experience while also passively observing the other towards the goal of gaining insights".

/
Dave, I could not agree with you more! As I have been engaging in contextual inquiry interviews and usability testing, "immersion" has become sort of a natural progression. As of late, I have become very "self-aware" in my experiences and interactions with systems. Those self checkout systems in the grocery stores have fallen victim to my rants, because not only do I experience the system, I evaluate it and make recommendations. So there I am at register 6--yelling about how one of the buttons is mis-labled or how some part of the process is counterintuitive. And then my husband has to tell me to shut up and keep walking . My only concern is "am I subjecting my work to a bias?"

But another note: you gain a great deal of insight into pain points by just conversing with someone else who is also stepping through the experience at the same time you are (of course it only works in certain scenarios).

Just my 2 cents.

--Yvonnia

25 Jul 2010 - 3:05am
Jarod Tang
2007

Hi Jared,

Thanks for telling the truth. Here, just add a wording game, maybe immersing/iv design is better than self design? (emphirsize we are one of the user so the empathy is real and solide, instead we are the only user).

Can't imagine we can do good design without being one of the user, which is long truth, but not many guy dare to say.

p.s.
There's a new book "Wired to care" is also on this topic.

Thanks,
Jarod

On Sun, Jul 25, 2010 at 1:23 AM, Jared M. Spool <jspool@uie.com> wrote:

Hello everyone,

One tension that frequently arises in trying to design usable systems is this idea that we're not our user and therefore we can't see the design the way they do. That's why we employ techniques such as usability testing, field studies, and personas.

But, what happens when we are the users? When we are designing for ourselves?

I wrote about this in a little piece I call "Actually, You Might Be Your User [1]"

What do you think?

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool@uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com  Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks  Twitter: @jmspool

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