Monday, June 25, 2007

Should Designers and Developers Do Usability?

Pros and cons of having your own UI person ...

"Having a specialized usability person is best, but smaller design teams can still benefit when designers do their own user testing and other usability work.

At my seminars, I'm often asked whether designers and developers can perform usability activities or whether those activities should be left to dedicated usability specialists. The answer depends on your circumstances; there are several important pros and cons to having designers and developers branch out into usability.

Con: Specialization Drives Performance

We've known since Adam Smith that specialized workers are more productive than people who try to do everything. That's true in the user experience disciplines as well. You can't even talk about "designers" as a single group. There are graphic artists, interaction designers, information architects, writers, and many other professionals, each of whom specializes in designing some aspect of the total user experience. Sure, a single person can do both visuals and information architecture, but such efforts will rarely match the quality of work done by dedicated specialists.
Indeed, even usability professionals often specialize in usability subfields, such as quick qualitative studies, formal measurement studies, field studies, competitive studies, site analytics, surveys, guidelines and standards, and so on.

The more different activities you have to do, the less time you'll devote to learning each one's intricacies -- and the less experience you'll build up with each one as well. Lack of experience is especially problematic for usability, because the ability to correctly analyze user behavior is extraordinarily dependent on the experience of having previously observed a wide range of behaviors.

The argument for specialization is particularly compelling for design vs. usability because different personality types tend to excel at each discipline. Design obviously appeals to people with a drive to put things together, whereas usability requires analytic thinking and conceptualization skills.

There are many other fields in which people might branch out into different job categories. In filmmaking, for example, a lead actor could write the script, but it's usually better to have a skilled screenwriter do the job.

Pro: Less Staff Required

It would be great if every project team had ten designers who were each experts in different aspects of user experience design. And it would be great to have a bunch of usability professionals support that design by working on multiple forms of user research and other usability activities."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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