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currently 3 is the Magic Number
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— 21 September 2004 —

3 is the Magic Number

Yes it is. It’s the magic number. Somewhere in this UCD community…

Three articles, all written this week, that have an underlying theme of questioning the value of UCD and those who provide expertise in it.

The User-Centric Design Trap
[props] WebWord [/props]

UCD isn’t flawed. Rather, it was never intended to solve the complex motivational differences a person has when using a product, as opposed to voluntarily visiting a Web site. When was the last time you were on a Web site because you had to be?

Um, it’s called an intranet. I use it to get the work done in which the people who pay me are interested. The author does go on to state:

Software and pens are designed for consumers. They need these products, so UCD principles are warranted. Intranets, sites such as IRS.gov, even search engines function as tools, not persuasive systems. They benefit from UCD.

However, these “voluntary” systems he writes about are tools. Tools that support the goals of the user. “I want to buy X.”

If your goal is to create a profitable Web site that’s optimized to meet key performance indicator goals, then the UCD process, though well intentioned, falls short.

Attitudes like this continue to drive me crazy.

UCD is itself a tool. Only to be used when needed. And almost always to be used in conjunction (or better yet, integrated) with other methodologies. UCD doesn’t fall short in his example; it falls short in providing an holistic solution if used exclusively.

After linking to some of the articles referenced in the above article (which are all self-referential), my guess is that the author doesn’t believe that UCD ever falls short. I think this is just a poorly written premise for promoting a more holistic approach to design and development.


LL Spool J Kicks it Old School
[props] WebWord [/props]

The cost of frustration is one of our favorite techniques for demonstrating the value of our work. If we can pinpoint how frustrating the interfaces are and how that frustration is influencing the business, it becomes very easy to convince stakeholders that they need to change their designs.

We’ve found that, once we start focusing on the underlying cost of frustration figures, we end up with a very effective metric that we can use throughout the development process. It helps us identify which designs are most effective and gives us a tool to explain the benefits of good design.

Our close, personal friend Jared is at it again. In the attached article, he gives us a logical, minor treatise on why usability of a product matters, using amtrak.com as the poster child. Spool has two main audiences with this article: business, and designers & usabilityers. Who might benefit from this article, and what is missing? Since all good things and celebrity deaths come in three’s, let’s break designers & usabilityers down into three four (I forgot me!) major categories.

  1. The newbie: This is the “my way or the highway” person. They wield UCD as a club and expect it to be used by everyone (as well as work for every situation which it doesn’t).
  2. The practitioner: This is the person that asks better questions. They don’t ask, “Do you want to be successful?” They ask, “How successful do you want to be?” They understand that the companies that have enough money and/or care enough to hire them are already successful to some extent the company deems at least acceptable.
  3. The guru: The penultimate position. These are people who have achieved fame and often fortune for really helping to turn around companies. They are the faces of usability and UCD. They are the reason we all have jobs. They also tend to write articles (and books) and think from a practitioner’s perspective. The guru is a leader, but not a visionary.
  4. The sherpa: This person has transcended the guru stage. They know that enlightenment is a path walked, not a destination arrived. They are often confused with the practitioner level because they work for less money and have less fame than gurus. However, they also know that change is best when managed, not dictated. They have the vision necessary to transform industries, not just a single company.

Spool’s article is that of a guru writing as a practitioner. He makes a great point, but what he fails to realize is that Amtrak has no direct competition. Their prices are often similar to that of an airline ticket, yet their service takes n-times longer to deliver. In the article below, we see that one of the tenets of competition: either you become the low-cost leader, or you differentiate yourself from your competitors. The question that Spool asks Amtrak is, “How do we get more people buying from your website?” He should be asking, “How do we get more people to take the train?”


Pay 1$ for Design, Get 19$ in Change

Advertising specialists and marketing managers have long tried to appeal to the emotional element. But a growing number of companies are starting to feel that designers are more tuned in.

“With a marketing person, 90 percent of the time is spent trying to do everything to shape the buying decision,” said Earl Powell, director of the Design Management Institute, a forum for industrial designers and the businesses that use them. Designers are “more committed to the user experience. That experiential component has an emotional resonance: It sticks.”

Mmmm… IDEO…

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