Thursday, February 04, 2010

take responsibility for UX

I am really starting to dislike the term "User Experience", but I'll get back to that.

In the mid-90s I was a bass player in the acoustic music scene in the South, living in Atlanta. If you happen to know Atlanta, to give you some perspective, my band opened New Years Eve at Eddie's Attic in 1994, and headlined New Years Eve in 1995 and 1996.

Eddie's Attic was and still is one of the most important and influential clubs on the acoustic music circuit in the South. Also on that circuit is a club in Nashville called The Bluebird Cafe.

The Bluebird is interesting because it enforces a strict no-talking policy. If you talk to your companions at all during a performance at the Bluebird, you are asked to leave the room.

At one time back in the 90s there was an intense discussion among people on the acoustic music scene as to whether Eddie's should implement a no-talking policy like the Bluebird's. As far as I could tell, the musicians who advocated the most for such a policy were the mediocre performers (you really couldn't get onstage at Eddie's if you were outright bad). The more that the performers had inattentive audiences, the less able they were to command a stage and hold the attention of the audience, the more likely they were to support a no-talking policy.

At the time there was a low-circulation newspaper devoted to the Atlanta acoustic music scene that interviewed me on the subject. In that interview I said three things: first, that if you intend to get on stage in the first place, it is your job to command that stage and compel the audience to listen solely by means of your own talent; second, that if you consistently have talkative audiences that don't pay attention, then you should either work on improving your performance, or else stop performing at all; third, that a no-talking policy robs performers of valuable feedback during the course of the performance.

I dislike the term "User". I think the word "user" has bad connotations and associations. I think it is too easy to turn "users" into "lusers" in our own minds. I far prefer the term "audience" to describe those who consume our software. It is only inanimate objects that have users. Performers have an audience.

Given that preference, I think the use of personas as proxies for types of users may not be a very good practice. It seems far too easy to exclude valuable segments of the potential audience and to miss valuable feedback by blinding oneself by the limits of the particular personas being considered as users.

I think a far more interesting and valid approach to UX work is to do things like instrument servers so that we can track in real time the activity of the largest groups of people using our software that we can muster, and to have that activity influence our development and delivery work as nearly instantaneously as possible. And of course, doing that also lets us know when the audience is not paying attention. This is exactly the feedback loop that audience applause provides performers on stage.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Writing About Testing list/conf update

The writing-about-testing mail list began in September 2009, and has already played a part in a remarkable number of achievements:

The following writers appeared in print for the first time or contracted to be published in print for the first time:

Abby Fichtner
Dawn Cannan
Catherine Powell
Lanette Creamer
Parimala Shankaraiah

Lanette Creamer and Matt Heusser collaborated on an article about test automation in waterfall and agile projects.

Alan Page, Matt Heusser, and Marlena Compton published the "Code Coverage Cage Match" collaboration.

Matt Heusser started a book project "Testers at Work".

Adam Goucher signed a contract for a book on Selenium.

Fiona Charles edited the Women of Influence issue of Software Test and Performance, with contributions from many list members.

Yvette Francino landed an editorial position at

Dawn Cannan and Lisa Crispin collaborated on a piece for Agile Record #1. Dawn's first conference presentation ever was in Second Life.

If you would like to join the list, contact me or any other member for information. If we don't know you or your writing, please point out links to some public examples like blog posts, public documentation, conference papers, or similar work when you do so.

The deadline to apply for the Writing About Testing conference is now past. The conference is completely full with 15 attendees. Any future applications will go onto a waiting list. The attendees will be:

Elisabeth Hendrickson (
Lisa Crispin (
Geordie Keitt (
Marlena Compton (
Rich Hand (
Joey McAllister (
Marisa Seal (
Jon Hagar (
Ben Simo (
Marisa Burt (
Lanette Creamer (
Yvette Francino (
Rick Scott (
Dawn Cannan (
Chris McMahon (