[consulting] A defense for new users

Robert Castelo robert.castelo at cortextcommunications.com
Sat Feb 25 02:28:41 UTC 2006

On 24 Feb 2006, at 23:55, Kieran Lal wrote:
> I have made the arguments in public over the last year, you can search 
> for my posts on the dev list and you'll see they are mostly about user 
> experience and the results of the work we have been doing.

understood, but what I'm getting at is that to follow the discussion on 
usability is difficult on the dev list because there is no way to see 
all posts about usability specifically. It makes looking at the history 
of the usability discussion very difficult. At the rate new developers 
and usability experts (?) are joining, would a forum or usability 
mailing list be better to focus on making UI improvements?

> The surveys are unreliable argument you are making is a common one, 
> but usually it comes from the UE people.

Well, I don't think saying 'surveys can be wrong' is going to be news 
to anyone.

My point is that developers are interested in identifying specific 
problems in the UI and fixing them, how the problem was identified is 
not that important - the key to getting developers involved is 
presenting them with problems clearly enough that they can perceive the 
problem themselves... 'on page X if you didn't know Y how would you 
know to click Z?' will work better than '46% of users had difficulty 
using page X'.

I'm talking about getting around developers lack of understanding of 
survey results, or scepticism, and presenting the identified problems 
themselves rather than how the problems where found.

> I'll just say that if you pick up a book on user experience they will 
> tell you to focus on user tasks and goals not features. We conducted 
> live experiments and the feedback is to focus on tasks not features.  
> We conducted interviews in both English and in Spanish that indicate 
> that indicate people have difficulty with tasks not features.  We did 
> a broad based survey and got data and that indicates particular tasks 
> are challenging, and that particular tasks are very frequently done.  
> We talked to multiple separate teams of professionals and they 
> indicated we should focus on helping users accomplish tasks.

Yes, I know. I'm all for a task based UI.

A list of user expectations for each task helps developers add controls 
in a structured way.

I'm particularly interested in what metaphors where found when you 
researched the mental model users have for each task. It would be a big 
improvement if we could translate some of those metaphors not just into 
better terminology but also some stylish icons.

I think some developers are worried that a task based UI will lead to a 
dumbed down interface which hinders advanced users. It's a genuine 
concern. Commercial software often adopts the '80% solution' to 
simplify UI, concentrating design on their average users. In our case 
the developers are often designing for themselves, so it would be 
difficult to sell them on an 80% solution.

As Allie pointed out, install profiles are probably the best solution, 
coupled with more display options for UI elements.

In the mean time thanks to collapsible form fieldsets we now have 
better progressive disclosure, so we can keep the UI clean while 
keeping advanced options handy for the advanced users.

Best regards,

Robert Castelo
Cortext Communications


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