Monday, March 3, 2008

UX Documents - how useful are they?

For the past several months, we've been interviewing for a replacement position to compliment our 1.5 person team. Out of one interview, we came across an example of a greatly formatted document, looking somewhat like an ISO document delineating everything from the purpose to the actual design recommendations after user testing. I hadn't had a really good look at this document,though I did see headings for it and detailed visuals and screenshots. But then I wondered, how useful is it really?

I've created documents like that and had thought in the past that they were being read and extremely useful to get the message across. Enter now, this past year, where I have yet to write a complete report, printed and bound with the best binding plastic, the clearest transparent cover and proper vinyl backing, ready for distribution to the internal masses. So what have I really done to get the message across?

At one point, I was tired of writing up something spectacular, something so detailed and thorough, and extremely well-written, so long that - no one had the time to read it. Fed-up with my old habits, one of the questions I asked myself was: "How can I serve my peers better?"

Marshall Mcluhan's most popular quote was, "The medium is the message." If this is the case, then what gives a bigger message? A slick document that nobody reads or the raw data collected by my user testing, the video footage, the analysis spreadsheet, the emails and the prototypes?

Yes, this would mean a somewhat less organized route - but hey, isn't designing and iterations always messy?

So instead of the "prized document", I helped developed better access points for the usability data online. While this was centralized, the medium still became the message: the sometimes boring footage where I forget what to say, the analysis spreadsheet that have inconclusive remarks, the emails and forum messages asking the so many questions we have no answers for, the prototypes that *almost* work. I left nothing to the imagination.

In giving my peers access to the work without a filter, the credibility of usability work has increased, the time to deliver the results decreased, and more effort goes towards to the raw work - not to polish it up for presentation.

Indeed, for me at least, the day and age of the slick document has ground to a halt. It's no longer what I aspire to - and here's hoping you do the same.

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