Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bridging the Designer-User Gap with Empathy

Focusing on product acceptance ...

"Getting a usability issue acknowledged
Usability is not a numbers game. In a project meeting you can't say to the usability specialist: "We're supposed to be at 65, in last meeting we're at 58. How are we doing?" It's a rather qualitative issue. And in a business context qualitative issues run the danger of being ignored or overlooked. Previously, I wrote about the designer-user gap, which is a difference in understanding of the product between the designer and the user, causing the designer not to be able to anticipate what the user might need or want. The thing is, designers are actually a pretty empathic breed of product developers. The engineer-user gap might be even bigger than the designer-user gap. And to fix usability problems you really need all team members involved. No sense in designing a better interface if no-one will implement it.

Feeling it
Sometimes, simply telling other development team members the result of a usability test is not enough. They might challenge the setup of the test, debate or negotiate the results, come up with the classic 'did you have the right participants?' However, have your team mates present during testing, and you hardly ever get into discussions like these. It might be hard to put numbers on usability problems, but there's no arguing with seeing a user being angry at your product. I believe the key here is empathy. It's not just about knowing what's wrong with the product, it's also about acknowledging that to users this is a serious issue, and about being motivated to fix that for them.

Third age suit
To have its ergonomics specialists and engineers feel what is like to operate a car when you're - say - seventy, during the development of its 2000 Focus, Ford used the Third Age Suit, that was developed in cooperation with the University of Loughborough. It is a suit that restricts your sensory capabilities (vision, hearing, touch), and movement, to simulate what it's like to be eighty.

Said Vivek Bhise: "It's one thing to read customer feedback in a marketing study," it's a whole different thing to feel what they're feeling while driving a car. This has been a real eye-opener for our engineers."    (Continued via uselog.com)    [Usability Resources]

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