Friday, April 11, 2008

The Designer-User Gap

Designing for the user ...

Sometimes it's hard to figure out why the engineer on your design team doesn't understand why this one change would make a much better UI. But sometimes it's even harder to understand why users don't understand the UI you designed. I mean, it's completely logical. Apart from the fact that you might have much more experience with products like this than your user group, you are always an expert on the product you designed, simply because you designed it. No matter how hard you try to become 'blank' again, you never will.

The designer-user gap
This is what Jakob Nielsen (or his ghostwriter) in his Alertbox column is calls the designer-user gap. Nielsen identifies three levels of designer-user gaps:
- Level 1: The Designer Is the User (he completely understands how the product works, and so do the users)
- Level 2: The Designer Understands the Product (and the designer is in the dangerous position of knowing more than the user group)
- Level 3: Designing for a Foreign Domain (where the designer has the problem that he knows much less than the user group)
The last level has the biggest designer-user gap, and, according to the article:

The wider the gap between your situation and the users, their tasks, and their context, the more you need a systematic usability process to inform and adjust your design.

Hard-to-reach user groups
A fellow PhD candidate of mine here at IDE in Delft, Helma van Rijn, is studying how to design for 'hard to reach user groups'. In her graduation project she designed LINKX, a language learning tool for autistic toddlers (see movie, above). Here the designer-user gap is very big; it's hard for a non-autistic grown-up to imagine how autistic toddlers look at the world. To make things worse, you can't ask them to explain you. The same goes for seniors with dementia, another hard-to-reach user group that Helma worked with. For them she designed a group game that triggers memories, called the Klessebessers (chit-chatters). Watch the movies, and see for yourself whether Helma bridged the designer-user gap."    (Continued via the product usability weblog)    [Usability Resources]


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