by Whitney Quesenbery
Reprinted from Usability Interface, Vol 7, No. 4, April 2001
I’ve been working with a product development team for over a year and I think the world of them. Not only are they good at what they do, they are also concerned about creating a product which is both usable and technically robust. They are also serious about their process in which cross-functional teams work together on different parts of a large product. Recently when things got a little busy, we decided to invite another interface designer to help ease the workload. With a robust process and a good interface design, I didn’t think there would be much trouble to integrate a new designer. Imagine my surprise when one member of the group came to me in distress. It turned out that she had been walking the new person through all of the existing designs, showing her both the screen layouts and the analysis behind them. She said, “As I showed her the prototypes, she kept asking questions. They were good questions, but I felt as though she had found every usability battle I had lost in the last six months and was accusing me of not being serious about usability by pointing them out. It just made me feel terrible.”
Now this is a funny problem. We are trained to look at interfaces and evaluate them, to find flaws, and to expose the places where the user became lost in the expediency of implementation. Certainly this clarity of purpose applies no matter who created the design. We should not pull our punches just because it’s a friend or colleague whose work is being reviewed. But it made me think. Is this how others see usability professionals? As people who always criticize, who are never satisfied? Are we careful enough to attack the problem, not the person?
The first challenge in usability is the chance to do it at all. The second is to learn how to integrate our work with a project team, to collaborate on solutions. Perhaps the most difficult challenge will be to learn to hold on to our ideals and the goal of complete and universal usability even as we come face to face with the realities of time-to-market, technology limitations, and the need to set priorities.