Monday, December 1, 2008

The Dichotomy of being in UX

The age-old question most people in UX ask:

Am I a designer, or in research (via usability testing)?

For me, right now, I'm in both. I know under conventional wisdom of a usability practitioner or designer, this is a big no-no; though we do have at least one other person as a researcher so I'm off the hook for that. However, the second side of that is my colleague is starting to be trained to do some interaction designing. While that's good for the interim, it's not a good long-term solution. It's overhead that we don't need especially at times when much needs to be tested. So right now, we're in need of a great UX Designer.

It has been said time and time again - the people who test should not code. The people who code, should not test. And now, the people who design should not test nor code and vice-versa. But what happens when there's not enough manpower to cover the two parts required in better UX? One person does the designing, the other the testing - but we're not.

I come from a background where it was quite good training in Industrial Design to be able to design, test and redesign through iterations and different phases. And yes, it was indeed challenging to build up a certain amount of objectivity because there is so much emotional energy invested into the prototype and project. But that was a near virtual world, an ideal world where one person could do the amount of work of several, so I don't think it applies here as much.

Yes, more skills are being built and an understanding of the interaction elements in a U.I. is being formed when one person does the job of two. But it will need to end some time soon so we can operate entirely on our strengths and what we want to do, not just what we'll settle on for convenience sake.

There is also a battle in the mind whenever I come across a design I need to redo because of the test results I obtained. While I can remain objective, I can still feel it's not 100%. So now, we test each other's designs.

In the real world, there are teams of people. For a UX Team, there are people who are generalists and those who specialize. This article says it very well. I would think of myself as a generalists with some very good design skills - and I know I'm not the best designer. I also find the most challenging and rewarding part to be the research portion by heading the mockup off at the pass. I consider my analytical skills to be better than my designing skills.

I've heard somewhere:

"It's only when we can operate on our strengths can those around us operate the same way."

So, how about it?

1 comment:

Mark DiSciullo said...

In a perfect world the two disciplines (UX Researcher, Designer) should be separate roles. But these days, it's rare that projects allow for this luxury. But honestly, I don't mind that the lines are blurred.

As someone who has come up through the design ranks, as opposed to the research ranks, I still approach my research projects with a design the end of the day, isn't all about the design? Research empowers a designer to come up with the best, unbiased, usable design for the given audience and business objectives.

Ultimately, I believe that having a design background is more of an advantage to doing better research. But you need to be aware that you are approaching your project with a designer mindset and you need to account for that in order to be successful in your research.

Being a designer makes it more challenging to be a good researcher because:
- You think you already know the answers
- You may question the rigor involved to validate just even the simplest of ideas
- In spite of all the research and analysis, you still find yourself telling the story you wanted to tell right from the start. (we have a way of hearing only what we want to hear in the research)

So as a Designer leading up a User Research project, be cognizant of your bias and make sure to do the following:

1. Respect the Process - Always follow user research best practices. Realize that research may not be your strong point, don't skimp or cut corners, nor give into the notion that, "I'm a designer, I don't need to go through all the rigor of research & analysis, I'll figure it out and go with my gut." When you are leading up a research effort, do it right. You don't want to be challenged by a client on one of your recommendations and only be able to answer with "My gut is telling me this is the best recommendation" and have no evidence to support it. (you might get away with this amongst friends, but don't always assume your client will give you a free pass!)

2. Use Research as a Opportunity to Remove your Own Bias - Always be open to testing your assumptions. Incorporate test scenarios that challenge or validate your most basic assumptions. It will allow you to understand how much you should trust your "gut."

3. Use Research to Generate Ideas - Don't just "report" what happened during your user sessions. Seek out those innovative ideas. Even if they are very "pie in the sky" concepts, record them, and present them back to your client as future enhancements or "something to consider".

4. Let go of the idea that everything you prototype or present to the user has to be the most polished idea ever. The whole idea is to get meaningful insights to combine with your conceptual ideas and create something users really embrace and adopt. That may mean letting go of your designer need to test only the most innovative ideas to the test participants. Sometimes the best insights come from users commenting on something they don't like!

5. And finally, apply your "right-brained" creativity to your research - Tap into your creative side to create a more exciting user testing session. Use color, visuals and fun activities to help make the participant comfortable and create a more conversational atmosphere.

You may find "pure researchers" wishing they had the chance to research AND design!