I am not a usability professional.

Katie printed out an article for me, from the New York Times entited: Technology’s Untanglers: They Make It Really Work. There are several misconceptions here. Ones that I think are fairly widespread. For the record, I am NOT a usability professional. I am a UX Architect. If you prefer UI Designer or Web Designer, that is fine. But “design” and “creativity” are the main parts of my job, not testing.

Here is a quote from them describing what a usability professional does. Note the included picture.

The work can involve testing products in a laboratory, watching people use products in the field or developing testing methods.

For the record again: I do not do any of those things above as a regular part of my job. My job is to design the product in the first place. The parts of UX Architecture are:

  • Information Architecture (How things are oprganized)
  • Interaction Design (How people interact with the product)
  • User Interface Design (Specific to controls. Menus, buttons, widgets)
  • Information Copy (Instructions, button text, tooltips, etc)
  • Visual Design (Graphics, Skin, Icons, Art)

None of this has anything to do with testing or watching users. Testing and watching users may be a way to point out under-performing areas or explore new ideas, but it is not a substitute for design. At my previous company, they often got this wrong. Marketing managers would confuse the ability to test with the ability to design. It drives me nuts when they do. It is like the difference between a leader and a poll taker. Politicians often commission polls to see if their message is hitting the right note. Polls are a great way to see if a politician is resonating with his/her audience. But it’s a terrible way to lead. Leadership takes vision and passion and creativity. Polls only reflect the past. They do not build into the future.

I am a firm believer that testing and usability professionals are required to keep designers honest. You can’t just take my word for it that a UI is better. You need to test it. However, you should be aware that they are very different efforts, with different skill sets required. I have worked with excellent usability pros, as well as some disasters. The disasters were bad because they thought that the tests should dictate the design. Just like leaders, sometimes you need to plow through to reach the better solution that polls can’t detect. FDR knew early on that we had to defeat Hitler, even though public opinion said the exact opposite. His lend/lease program could not have been designed by following polls.

In short, the article by the New York Times is bunk. Usability professionals don’t make anything “better”. They make UX Designers accountable for their designers. UX Designers then make things more usable. I don’t know how to educate the whole world on this. I don’t get nearly enough traffic for that.

Leave a Reply