Monday, 6 February 2012

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - and The Pretty

Two recent blog articles on the Atomic Object Spin site got me thinking and are leading me into new areas to explore and understand.

First post was Are Designers More Valuable Than Programmers ?
This can't be good - testers are already Second Class Citizens and now we're going down the pecking order to be third-class.

Second post was Understand Design or Fail.
Another Gulp.
Another Eeek.
I didn't know anything about Design, never mind understand it. Was I going to fail ?

What these posts did do was make me realise that I didn't understand what a designer did - or how they did it. It wasn't just about making things look pretty and adding rounded corners to buttons.

It also made me realise that after working for eons in the IT industry I had never really worked with a designer. Most interfaces were built by us programmers dragging buttons and widgets out of the tool palette in Visual Basic.
We'd then pass it onto sales/support saying 'please can I have feedback on how this looks', sales would see that they now had a 'finished' program and send it straight to the customers so the crappy looking prototype ended up as the final product.

Even when I worked on projects that supposedly had a 'uasbility testing phase' built in or used the UAT phase to 'get feedback from users' it was all done too late in the process to actually make any significant changes and the project was usually late by at least a year anyway so further delays were not going to happen. Any usability changes could be done in V2...

Time to start learning so I asked the designers for book and web recommendations and got some great recommendations.

Currently working my way through two books:
The Art Of Innovation: Success Through Innovation the IDEO Way
The Ten Faces of Innovation: Strategies for Heightening Creativity

They're proving to be great reads and generating lots of thoughts and ideas - and future blog posts.

The design websites I've visited are also good resources and I'm learning that there is a lot of common ground with testers and designers.
For example, one site I've found with a ton of great material is User Focus and their February newsletter has this as their User Experience quotation of the month

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause this ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”
— Edward John Smith (Captain of Titanic).

Just the sort of quote a tester loves :)

- and just as I was writing this blog post, Rob Lambert posted a blog post about observing and testing and looking to see how people are using technology.

UX and usability do seem to be becoming more prominent, maybe because a certain company seems to be very succesful based on it's attention to design...


James Christie said...

" was all done too late in the process to actually make any significant changes..."

That's the classic scenario. There's a long, complicated and fascinating story behind the failure of UX and testing to get together through the first few decades of software engineering. I wrote a masters thesis on the subject, so I could bore for Scotland on this given the chance.

Suffice to say it suited both UX and software developers to pretend that sticking the usability testing at the end wasn't really a problem. In fact, UX academics constructed a bizarre intellectual justification for the practice. In the words of Blackadder, "there was a tiny flaw with their plan - it was bollocks". That's a quick precis of about 10,000 words of my dissertation.

There seems to have been a lot of improvement over the last few years and it's very encouraging to see pieces like this in testers talk about moving into usability. We're only about 40 years late!

Please keep us in touch with your adventures into UX Phil.

James Christie

Darren McMillan said...

If you're open to suggestions "Seductive Interaction Design" by Stephen Anderson is fantastic! I would highly recommend it.