Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why Doing User Observations First is Wrong

Study techniques and procedures...

"How many times have you had to fight hard for the ability to do field studies and other observations at the very start of the project? How many times have you patiently explained that taking time now would be rewarded by faster time to market overall? And how many times were you successful? The HCI community has long complained about product processes that do not allow time to start with good observations.

The more I examine this issue, the more I think that it is we, the HCI community, who are wrong. This includes me, for I have long championed the “study first, design second” approach. Well, I now suggest that for many projects the order is design, then study.

Let’s face it: Once a project is announced, it is too late to study what it should be – that’s what the announcement was about. If you want to do creative study, you have to do it before the project’s launch. You have to be on the team that decides what projects to do in the first place – which means you have to be part of the management team. (HCI bug one: Not enough HCIers are executives.)

Most projects are enhancements of preexisting projects. Why do we have to start studying the users all over again? Haven’t we already learned a lot about them? Shouldn’t we be studying them all throughout the adoption period? Once a project starts, it is too late. Think about it.

But note this contradiction, too: All of us usability theorists have long argued for iterative design, trying to get rid of the lengthy, inflexible linear project schedules that stymie flexibility and change, that slow up projects. Instead, we have championed iterative design, with frequent, rapid prototyping and frequent, rapid tests.

But wait a minute. Our continual plea for up-front user studies, field observations, and the discovery of true user needs is a step backwards: This is a linear, inflexible process inserted prior to the design and coding stages. We are advocating a waterfall method for us, even as we deny it for others. Yes, folks. By saying we need time to do field studies, observations, rapid paper prototypes and the like, we are contradicting the very methods that we claim to be promoting."   (Continued via uiGarden)   [Usability Resources]

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