Jakob Nielson’s latest Alertbox is the longest-read enewsletter in my list. The writeups are focused and brilliant. I only wish I were skilled enough to translate them into convincing arguments when talking to clients. That’s me, not Jakob, who’s needing refinement I know.
In the latest Alertbox (June 25) He writes, in the Pros/Cons of Whether Designers and Developers Should Do Usability this, as a “Con”…the Lack of Objectivity:
“If you test your own design, however, you might be less willing to admit its deficiencies. Designers can be too willing to dismiss user complaints or problems as minor or unrepresentative, when in fact the test indicates the need for a deep redesign. Also, designers can get so caught up in their own theories about how users ought to behave that they forget to test for cases in which people behave differently. “
Here, my interjection for multivariate testing data serving as the myth-buster for such activity. When a designer or developer gets a particular idea in their head about how something should be done, well developed testing that polls users’ behaviors via well-designed software systems and test suites should be able to close the gap and remove this “Con” from the table.
But as Nielson Points out, who’s writing the tests, and are those tests focused on the particular pet-peeves of the designer or developer? In my examples, are the variables we’re testing too focused on that designers favored bits?
I’ve found the rather mechanical process of creating on-line multivariate tests tends to remove some of the favoritism. It makes you think in segmented parts, and while you might still have a bit of ego invested in a design, you become more objective in the whole thing once you start taking it apart for testing. Could it be that such testing neutralizes this “worry” when it comes to designers testing their own designs? Should variable definition be more of a part of the web design process?
I find myself thinking hard about the variables I’m going to have to test when I’m brain-mapping a layout. Headlines, navigation, visual elements, flow, buildup, call-to-action, and so forth. But “pure designers” do not seem to do this. Flow might be on their mind, but it’s more a concern about “general fluidity” than tilting the entire thing towards a specific action. I’m usually in the game to make money with my clients, not to impress visitors as much – and I’m sure this changes the entire thought process. I’ll bet a middle ground would be ideal here.