Postcards from the edge

XII.6 November + December 2005
Page: 56
Digital Citation

Cutting edge today, kitsch tomorrow

Atticus Wolrab

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There is little in our profession that gives the HCI designer greater pleasure than seeing their designs used by the actual end-user. We don't thrive on their validating our pre-conceived notions; we thrive on them challenging us to raise the bar higher.

"This is good stuff," the user says as they fumble through our suboptimal data organization. "Better than anything I have ever seen before," they say as they click the wrong button or navigate mistakenly to an entirely unintended area.

Our ability to empathize and understand pain and embarrassment inspires us to come up with solutions that raise the bar; the many tools and techniques out there that help pave the way to a better user experience. It is the user to whom we are ultimately answerable.

Even as we acknowledge that the user is but a single slice of the human-computer interaction pie, the users remain the most vulnerable. Their voices are not heard in stakeholder meetings (with, alas, only rare exceptions). Their needs are observed but seldom synthesized into conceptual models. Users, in usability tests, can state their needs but these are seldom analyzed. Oh, wait. Sometimes they are analyzed. And over-generalized. We certainly have worked for companies paralyzed by user feedback, unable to trust design competence to do good: validating each check box and button in isolated contexts, and running "peanut butter" tests at the last moment just to check that the design receives the user's permission to ship. We suggest that there has to be a balance: Temper your design competence with your understanding of the user, but don't ask the user to tell you what to do.

The user has really no one to turn to in the software world except us. Designers are the caretakers of "the right thing to do." Sure we have a mixed agenda—but, ultimately, we know a real success is not just the financially successful product. Success, for us, is the rave product review, the excited user testimonials, and the personal satisfaction of Doing The Right Thing. That is what we really live for: to hear the voice of the people.—<eic>

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©2005 ACM  1072-5220/05/1100  $5.00

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