Fresh: mailbag

XII.6 November + December 2005
Page: 7
Digital Citation

Letters to the editor

Jonathan Arnowitz, Elizabeth Dykstra-Erickson

back to top  Avoiding the Next Schism

The September/October issue carried a letter from Bill Buxton criticizing our Business column "Avoiding the Next Schism" (March/April). Bill said he did "not recognize anything in the article that reflects any design process" that he had ever encountered. He acknowledged that this was "not surprising because there [was] almost nothing about design in the article." Correct! The article was not about the design process, but about identifying common ground between ethnography and usability to avoid a potential turf war between these two disciplines. Ironically, we agree with Bill that design is the "glue" that makes ethnography and usability relevant at all, and we made the point that ethnography and usability professions are both vulnerable unless they make constructive contributions to solving design problems.

Bill also objected to our including "Designer guesses about people" in our list of the many common drivers of design that need to be balanced with behavioral data about users, saying, "On what planet? The designers I know are obsessed with getting to know their users..." Some designers may indeed combine design skills with behavioral research skills, including knowledge of methodology, techniques, analysis, and interpretation, and some may even have the time and resources to do such research. However, without behavioral data, designers can be too reliant on intuitions—or "guesses"—about people.

Designers are certainly not alone in this, so in case we singled them out unfairly, pretend we just listed "Guesses about people" rather than "Designers' guesses about people" as one of the many non-behavioral design drivers. Our main point still stands: Behavioral data makes an indispensable contribution to design decisions. Since Ethnography and Usability are uniquely specialized in behavioral research, and together constitute only a small subset of the voices influencing design, they have common ground and must avoid a professional schism between them.

—David Siegel and Susan Dray
Dray & Associates, Inc.
Minneapolis, MN USA

back to top  Authors

Letters to the editor may be mailed to interactions mailbag, ACM, 1515 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10036 or sent via email to Please include your full name, address and daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity and may appear online.

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©2005 ACM  1072-5220/05/1100  $5.00

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