Friday, April 25, 2008

Go watch a user use your product

Great post from Francis Beaudet, our Chief Architect, about when he first became conscious of design and usability. It was when he first saw a user trying to use a product he helped develop.

Go and watch a user try to use a product you've developed, or a web site you've designed, and see what happens. Give them a task to do - something your product was designed for, and see how long it takes them to figure it out.

To riff on Francis' post, I remember my first revelation about good design, but it had nothing to do with software (then again, when I started using a computer, the height of human-computer interaction was Zork). I was in high-school, and we were tasked with raising awareness with town council about accessibility. So our team borrowed a wheelchair, and tried to get around town and do normal things for a day - go for coffee, go to the library, and so on, and film it. Even places that were supposed to be accessible were nearly impossible to get to, and for silly reasons - like a 4" height difference between the end of a ramp and an entrance. That's when I learned the importance of thinking about who will use your product, and how it will be used. It came together for me later in systems design class in university, where I learned that accessible design and good design often go hand-in-hand.

Whether you're building software, a sidewalk, or a space shuttle, good design is universal. I consider myself very lucky to be working with a group of people that are experts in design.

So go find a novice user and ask them to complete a task with your product. You may be in for a surprise.

1 comment:

JasonWomack said...

The first time I experienced this, I was stopped in my tracks. I had built what I thought was an informative, user-friendly website for a productivity topic I coach executives in to get more of the right things done...

What I realized is that it's great for reinforcement AFTER a seminar, but tough on the "front end" for people to understand out of context.

Your post here has encouraged me to go and watch people use this site...thanks, Matt.