Fresh: ask Doctor Usability

XIII.6 November + December 2006
Page: 9
Digital Citation

I like it like that!

Dr. Usability

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Dear Dr. Usability,

I have just finished my 16th iteration of the user interface for cropping a picture. Everyone has their own vision of how it should work. I've tried it this way and that way, and when I've showed it to my colleagues, each person says something different. And I still have my own opinion on how I like it. If all of the variations don't eventually reduce to a real product, then all this design time is wasted. I can keep going in the dark until I hit the magic combination, but how long is that going to take? How do I move off the dime here? Don't tell me to test it—I'm just going to get that many more opinions!

I Like It Like That

Dear I Like It,

So, 16 iterations and counting. No agreement and none in sight. Recent news reports of international warfare report a similar strategy: Take a method that has proven fruitless (16 times and counting), and just keep trying it anyway. It's bound to work sooner or later, right? Don't count on it. You need to abandon a losing strategy and go the collaborative route.

Have everyone check their egos at the door—that includes you—and have a group workshop. While it pains me greatly, I must give a plug to someone other than me here: Go back to Dr. Wilson's column from last issue (The Well-Tempered Practitioner: "Brainstorming Pitfalls and Best Practices," July-August) and do a brainstorming session on the UI requirements. Make sure everyone's voice is heard. Get agreement on common themes and come up with some group prototypes. After everyone is in agreement and feeling good about the process, tell them you've been taking minutes and will send them out. Then go back to your desk, dust off your first iteration, and send it to engineering.

In advance of anyone finding anything out, do some usability testing to prove you were right (just to make sure, benchmark with your 16th iteration; that one must be a real doozy).

No need to thank,
Doctor Usability

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Dear Dr. Usability,

What is wrong with my development partners? The marketing guy keeps changing his mind on what he wants. The engineer tries to read my mind but then does what he wants. I don't have clear requirements—and most of the time it seems like the project stakeholders don't really know what they want, and they don't know what it takes to get it. On my current project, the guy creating the requirements told me to just do whatever I want. He gave me lots of freedom, and then when I gave him results, he suddenly made up his mind—only it's not what I designed! Can't they think ahead? Aaarghhhh!

Made Up My Mind
("What's Wrong With You?")

Dear Made Up,

So you saw things going wrong all through the process and just trudged on like a trooper: You and "I Like It Like That" should quit HCI and consider becoming international political strategists. They make oodles of money and show the same results as you do.

You won't get anywhere in a compartmentalized world. And just as it may be hard to imagine friendly relations between mortal enemies, having engineering and marketing sit at a table is not at all a bad idea. Certainly the alternatives are not much more appealing (kapow!).

Get all parties together, brainstorm, share concerns and needs, agree on deliverables and quality measures, and do periodic checkpoints as markets and technologies change. Be nimble, be open, and don't enrich uranium.

Doc Usability

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©2006 ACM  1072-5220/06/1100  $5.00

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