In June I gave a talk at a conference about things that I, as a UX professional, find obvious that I have noticed that others don’t. After giving the talk, I decided to also put it down in writing as a series of blog posts. This is part 2 of that series and talks about that even if you hire usability experts, they still need to meet the users.
A UX professional might be a usability expert, but still needs to meet the users
UX professionals have had many different names over the years. Among the titles used are usability expert and usability engineer. Even though these titles highlight that the profession should include good knowledge about cognitive science and other things surrounding usability, they might have also contributed to the belief that if you are an expert in usability, your knowledge alone should be enough to build a usable and useful system. This belief implies that all users are the same and context doesn’t matter. This is about as true as believing that a good software developer can start coding in a new code base without actually having looked into how it is structured and what conventions are built into it.
When starting to work with a new product, organisation or team for that matter, the first thing you should do to do a good job is to learn about the new context you are in. Even though things might be similar to previous experiences, it is highly unlikely that they are identical. While a developer might look into the code and talk to other developers, a UX professional will most likely try to get out to meet the users of the products and services in their natural environment where they use the product or service as fast as possible when starting a new job. By doing that, they can learn not only how the users and the situations are similar to what they’ve seen before, but also, more importantly, how they differ.
Learning about these things when starting to work with something is not enough though. As anyone well versed in agile development philosophy knows, the world outside of your organization is ever changing. This also applies to the users and contexts of use. As a consequence, user research has to be constantly ongoing in order to detect these changes and be able to respond to them. Otherwise, the product or service won’t stay competitive for very long.
It might be argued that humans are always humans and certain things are always the same. This is true. We do have a limited ability to remember things. Our eyes only allows us to see a small part of a screen clearly at any point in time. Our dexterity and acuity in our hands and fingers goes down with age. However, there are so many other things that goes into creating good usability that is dependent on the characteristics of specific user groups and the context in which they operate. It might be how they currently work, how much domain knowledge they have, what their experience of other softwares and services are etc. These are things that can’t be simply “known” by an expert – instead you will have to learn it from actual users in one way or another.
If you, as a novice in the field of User Experience, would like to learn more about how to do research about the users and contexts of use of your product or service, keep an eye out for the next time me and my colleague Martin gives our one day course Modern UX. If you can’t wait until then, the short talk which is the basis for this blog post series will be given again at a small event at Crisp in a few weeks. You can sign up for the event by following this link. (However, all the talks given at that event will be in Swedish.)