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.

7 comments:

Lisa said...

That makes sense. We do a lot of monitoring of production, but we haven't really analyzed that for user experience feedback.

What about traditional usability testing, where you bring in regular folks, watch or record their activities, and debrief them? Do you think that has value, if you make sure to get a random cross-section rather than try to get "typical users"?

Chris McMahon said...

Honestly, I don't have enough experience in the field to be able to judge the value of things like usability labs. I just want to point out that having an audience creates an obligation on the part of the performer, where having users does not. And that the difference could be profound.

Bj Rollison said...

Usability labs are one way to gather feedback. We use them a lot but I think they can be a bit contrived in that a person is given a task to complete and monitored as to how they complete the task.

Another approach might be along the lines of Microsoft's Experimentation platform ( http://exp-platform.com/default.aspx)

In IE 4 days we had PM's go sit with host families in their homes and watch how they surfed the net.

Ram said...

Good observation.
"I dislike the term "User" - I think is contextual. I still like the term User as in the one that who actually uses the product. In your example, audience sounds more appropriate for presentations / performance arts, it is not that the hands on that they get to. Where as products are used by individuals in this context.

there is nothing like 1:1 user feedback mechanism, however i still hesitate the 1:1, in the context of comfort level. So that boils down to the batch size of users when we get the user feedback. Some individuals do great in group than 1:1 due to their personality (shy, reserved, nervous while someone watching over shoulder, etc) - the same holds good even for the music performance, giving a presentation to one individual might not yield good feedback, unless the individual is great at providing feedback irrespective of where he/she is at.

" feedback loop that audience applause " -- applause can be misleading too. How do you measure the genuine applause compared to ones that join the crowd when one starts? How many of those comes from the heart that they felt, experienced and genuinely provided that feedback, how would you measure the dis-satisfaction there? Applause in larger groups may not be a good measure of performance. So now the question is what should be the group size so we can observe that feedback and talk to individuals for their genuine feedback.

Bj mentioned about IE4 user feedback, its a great way provided feedback seekers are good at working with people, building trust and relationship that opens up users to provide their genuine feedback.

usability labs - although it is great to watch, but if the subject user isn't comfortable in that setting, it doesn't yield good measure at times depending on the lab setting.

just my thoughts..

Chris McMahon said...

I'm thinking in terms of eBay, Amazon, Google, Apple, Twitter. Something is happening there that's different than what happens with "users".

Reid said...

Hi Chris! How are you? It's been a while, but terrific to see thumbnails of your life on this blog. Give me a shout when you have a minute. Mack Norman has put together something funny you should see. Also, would love to catch up. ramallard@mindspring.com
Reid
ps. I agree and appreciate your perspective and sentiments of UX. (Saw an Eddie's show last night)

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