Some time ago I wrote about the similarities and relationships between testing and UX/usability techniques. But there’s another question: how do we integrate them in the software development process? Here’s an approach:
Listen Nassim Taleb in this interview (minute 4) claiming that humans are bad designers:
In his most popular book, “The Black Swan” (nothing to do with the movie), Taleb explains that many disciplines allegedly scientific like sociology, meteorology, politics and especially economics, are so complex and are so hugely affected by single events impossible to foresee (“black swans”), that making valid predictions is useless in most cases. Worse still, we are unaware of how bad we are making predictions.
Obviously, Taleb is not talking specifically about interface design, but it’s inevitable to come to the same conclusion because it’s also true that we are not good at designing interfaces. That’s why every approach to User-Centered Design is iterative: we know we are not going to find a suitable solution at first, so we keep trying and refining until we reach a valid design (because “we are good at discovering things”).
And what are our black swans? Users: it’s impossible to foresee how users are going to react in front of an interface (anyone who has performed or watched a usability user test has realized).
In my previous job as an expert in usability and accessibility, I was a member of the Software Quality Area inside my company. There I realized that, although they are closely related, usability and software testing are, in practice, developed as totally independent disciplines, with:
Last week I was visiting a NASA exhibition in Madrid. As a usability/UX specialist, I was prepared to see complex interfaces and panels full of buttons; and they were there. But two other things related to UX were called to my attention.
First, prototypes. One of the items at the exhibition was a sequence of prototypes of the lunar module that landed on the moon during the Apollo missions.
Second, checklists. Several old-fashioned paper checklists used during space missions were shown.
I don’t know whether checklists are generally considered as a usability or user-centered design technique; anyway, I think they should. For more considerations about that technique, read the surprising and interesting book The Checklist Manifesto.
So two conclusions came to my mind:
When we talk about usability methods, it may seem that they are some kind of magic trick or very advanced technique; but most of them are simple and based upon common sense. And they have been performed during many years.
Since those kind of techniques have been performed during many years, and (most of) the missions were successful… hey, they somehow work!
Rich Internet applications (RIA) (or ‘web applications’ as opposed to ‘web pages’) are very common nowadays; they may come from a standard web page that has been improved with extra functionalities, or from a desktop application that has been migrated towards a web platform. In any case, there are very few well-established standards for that kind of interfaces.
That’s why I have compiled a list of RIA-specific usability heuristics (or best practices) that may help when it comes time to develop or to evaluate a rich web application. They are not intended to fully cover all the aspects of the application, but to address issues specific of rich web interfaces; these heuristics should be a complement of more general ones.
A lot has been written about the new GMail interface; most of it is a matter of opinion, but I’m afraid Google has committed an obvious mistake: using icons (in buttons) that don’t have a clear single meaning.
Let’s take a look at two of the buttons; isn’t this your first guess when you see them?
Wrong. The real functions of those buttons are:
Using fancy original self-designed icons is a common mistake made by novice interface designers; icons are hard to memorize, and users usually recognize just a few of the most common. Many times, the best way to describe a function is simply a text label.
I’m surprised Google has fallen into that error; maybe they have been paying too much attention to people complaining about their ugly interfaces. Anyway, Google, please, give me back my text labels for actions!