Fresh: ask Doctor Usability

XIII.2 March + April 2006
Page: 9
Digital Citation

What’s the right thing?

Dr. Usability

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Dear Dr. Usability,

I am currently working on performing some user research for my company's flagship product. My company is planning a new version of it with some new additional features (of course), as well as a new innovative user interface. We actually did some user research with some of our long-term customers on many of the features, and on the new interface elements. Sadly, the results are uniformly bad. The new interface pretty clearly creates negative emotional reactions among our installed base. If that's not bad enough, here's my real problem: One of the factors determining my annual bonus is my ability to deliver on the company vision. But the company vision looks dead wrong. How can I do the right thing and still get my bonus?

—Damocles in Wyandotte

Dear Damocles,

In this day and age when shooting the messenger (and anyone else in the way) is an all-too-common occurrence, I'd say you need to evaluate what the words "right thing" mean. I love this question! Good of you to ask.

Does the right thing mean you should noisily advocate abandoning the new version of your company's software? Or does it mean gently advocating changing it in a way to make it more user-friendly? Or does it mean suggesting an alternate new version? Or does it mean doing due diligence and making a report so you have a paper trail saying "I told you so?" Or does it mean sitting tight and looking for some other helpful UX activity to work on while you wait for your next paycheck? There are many right things to do here. These options depend not just on how difficult you want to make life for yourself, but also on how much you know the market and the business and all the non-HCI related factors that may be influencing or rather compromising what you and I would feel is the right thing.

Having said all of that, your job is really to advocate for the end user. If you do not stand up for the user, then you stand in the direct line of responsibility for the shoddy products your company develops. The streams of frustrated and disheartened RSI-suffering users will all know that it's you who let them down. Of course, the choice is yours. (You probably don't get your name in the About Box, anyway.)

With the rightest of regards,
Dr. Usability

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