Marking your own exam

Tweet

On the Ixd Discussion List at the moment there’s a discussion being held about the difference between the role of the interaction designer (often written as IxD or IaD) and usability specialist.

In a nutshell, the interaction designer will design user interface behaviours and user interactions on a site, hopefully based on previous research that’s been conducted. The usability specialist conducts research that informs and evaluates these decisions from a user perspective, throughout the development of a site or system.

Many interaction designers will argue that it’s an essential skill to have experience in user research and general usability principals. This seems logical to me. What doesn’t seem logical to me is this: conducting user-based evaluations (or other usability testing) of your own designs.

Is it possible to mark your own exam without influence from business requirements, client pressures and ego? I think it takes a very strong character to do so and I also think there’s something to be said for independent evaluations. Personally I’m not convinced that it’s the ideal way to develop with true user focus, but it seems to be happening out there a bit.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    It cuts both ways, I think.

    Independent evaluations can reveal aspects that you might never have noticed, or thought were important, because when you’re intimately involved with a project you can become a little blinkered.

    But on the other hand, when you’ve been intimately involved with a project, you have an inate understanding of its goals and aspirations that someone outside the project can’t possibly have.

    I think you need both – your own instincts, and the views of others – and somewhere between those two viewpoints is the truth.

  • Lisa Herrod

    hey James, this is a really good point that you’ve made:

    But on the other hand, when you’ve been intimately involved with a project, you have an inate understanding of its goals and aspirations that someone outside the project can’t possibly have.

    As a professional usability consultant/practitioner, part of the role is understanding business requirements and user needs to the same extent that the rest of the team does. Without that there is an imbalance across the project. I don’t believe independent practitioners should be considered “outside the project” .

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    Well, I meant in the sense that the person or people who originated the project – those who thought of the original idea, and perhaps those who drafted the prototype – are “inside” the project, and everyone else is “outside”. Because those who have the original idea have the most intimate understanding of that idea, even if (as is probably the case) they’re not necessarily the best people to decide on its implementation.

    I guess my point is really, don’t underestimate the value and importance of intuition and gut-feeling. User-testing is important, but sometimes you just have to screw what everyone else thinks and do you what you think is best.

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    It worked for Steve Jobs and the iPod – no user testing there!

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    I think it’s ideal to have people who are detached from the process assessing it. But a lot of the time the process tends to be build/test/build/test/build/test/etc, so cutting to an external usability tester in those circumstances is often just too inefficient.

    Unless you can create a position for a full time usability guru, I tend to think most people go to other people within their group, but not involved directly with the project.

  • gerrygaffney

    Lisa said:

    “Is it possible to mark your own exam without influence from business requirements, client pressures and ego?”

    My personal experience has been that it is very difficult for people to be sufficiently detached to examine their own designs with a high degree of independence, and some people do it better than others. Whenever I work on a design, I try to make sure I have somebody else take charge of testing – although of course I want to sit in as an observer, becuase that’s a great way to learn and get feedback.

    I think for many people it gets easier over time, and you can learn to become somewhat detached. This means that companies certainly can (and should) do in-house testing to save the cost and time of always relying on an external consultancy. That approach allows people to do several ‘mini-tests’ at appropriate times to test, for example, critical new navigation or functionality. If necessary, they can back that up with occasional outside testing.

  • Lisa Herrod

    Hi Gerry, nice to see you here :)

    You’ve raised an excellent point about observing sessions. In testing designs I’ve seen a lot of designers and developers benefit from observing sessions. I think it really drives home that different people will use your designs in ways you’ve never imagined.

    I definitely think it’s possible to assess your designs objectively and without influence, but as you say, it takes a certain character as well as time and experience.

    Interestingly, this hit home for me just last week. I’m currently involved in the design of a web app, which is something I haven’t done for a few years (I’ve focussed on testing). It’s a collaborative project with a small team and we are designing and building the site ourselves. Naturally I’ll run all the user testing, because that’s my area of expertise. But it occurred to me that I would be ‘marking my own exam’ to some degree.

    So it will definitely be an interesting experience when we get to that stage… I’ll let you know how I go!