Recently I was part of a user testing study in which I observed someone using the software I had designed. At one point the user did something he wasn’t supposed to do (in theory) and in an instant I saw the problem. The descriptive text I had written was on the wrong screen…instead of the previous screen it should have been on this screen.
The problem had existed for a while in the software. And, I had heard reports that this sort of thing was happening, but I hadn’t seen it myself and it wasn’t clear why. When I saw the person in action, it became clear immediately. The simple act of observation made the amorphous crystal clear.
Of course, I was reminded that I wasn’t doing enough user testing. I was testing now and then but wasn’t testing regularly…only when I wanted to find something specific out. But regular testing provides insights like this…letting you know when something subtle is hurting the user experience.
Even more general, though, is this principle:
As the distance between the maker and user increases, so does the difficulty of designing a great user experience.
In other words, the closer the designer and user are, the easier it is to design. When designers observe actual use, the problems jump out quickly. But as the layers between these two parties increases, so does the communication that must be done to have the same effect. Even if one person sits between the designer and user, the designer’s job is twice as hard.
Now think about all the layers we have to deal with. Management layers. Salesperson layers. Call-center layers. Support layers. All of these layers add friction between the maker and the user, reducing the communication between them to a game of telephone. As each layer is piled on, the job of the designer gets harder. And, not only that, but the job of each person in the chain is made more difficult as well.
My takeaway from this experience is to make it a point to have regular, involved interaction with users even if there isn’t anything seriously wrong with the software. The increased interaction will not only find some smaller issues I will have overlooked, but it will lead to a more efficient design process as well.