August 28, 2006

The Truth of User Experience: Three Stages

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
- Arthur Schopenhauer

This quote made me think about how usability (the concept) has been received by the technology elite in the last 10 years.

First, they seemed to reject it...refusing it flat out. Much like strung-out groupies who'd been riding the tour bus and partying backstage far too long with their rock and roll "gods" in the mythical band called "New Tech and The Latest Gizmos." They ridiculed those in the usability movement as if they were "New Kids on the Block" and promised that in time people would see that "New Tech" was where it's at.

Second, they opposed the messengers. The way to be cool was to take shots at Jakob Nielsen and other usability proponents. I seem to recall that Jakob's hair, website, sideburns, guidelines, thumbs and speaking style were favorite targets.

Third, they started accepting it (or the need for it) as self-evident. This doesn't mean they understand how to create usable products, but it's definitely not unusual for business people to have discussions about usability these days. In addition, lots of companies are trying to hire usability talent: lists over 1000 usability jobs, and CareerBuilder has 979. Design firms have all seemingly retooled...suddenly splashing a "user experience" coat of paint on their existing wares, no doubt in response to customer demand.

So now we've entered a phase where buyers are seeking "the truth"...with a lot of false prophets and snake-oil vendors selling cheap wares. Buyers aren't educated enough yet to know what to look for...but that's changing.

Consumers and markets have evolved to the point that usability will continue to be a huge factor in coming years. Just look at food for example: we no longer think much about food safety, about freshness or transportation, or about variety. Supermarkets in developed countries offer a huge variety of safe foods from all around the world. Food companies have started focusing on consumer convenience: packaging, portability and portion size for example. Convenience...analogous to "ease of use."

What do you think? Am I speaking the "truth" or telling a whopper? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Additional Resources:
- The Backlash against Jakob Nielsen and What it Teaches Us
- Usability Jobs: Usability Professionals' Association
- Directory of Usability Consultants: Usability Professionals' Association


Anonymous said...

If you believe the Design Eye for the Usability Guy was simply opposing the messenger in the form of Jakob Nielsen, you weren't paying close enough attention.

I'll simply refer you to a quote from one of the great designers of the recent past:

"'The conflict between design and technology, like the conflict between form and content, is not an either/or problem, it is one of synthesis. -Paul Rand"

You can easily replace "techonology" with "usabilitY" in that quote if you like, but that too would be missing the point. Good design is inherently usable, and to remove usability from the practice of good design was never possible.

How so many in the "usability" profession can keep missing that point is beyond me.

People in the usability profession need to stop asking themselves what constitutes a product as being usable, and start asking themselves what constitutes good design. Then just maybe the field might actually get somewhere.

Andrei Herasimchuk

Lyle said...


I think we agree that "good design is inherently usable". I'm not sure what you mean when you say that folks in the usability profession keep missing that point. It seems to me that usablity practitioners are trying ot make the point that in order for design to be good, it must be usable (enough).

Good Design is usable...and

Usable is not always good design (although there are some that speak of "usable" and "well designed" as being the same). Good design incorporates many qualities, including usability (e.g., reliability, desirability, etc.).