I was surprised to see this, since Jakob Nielsen has a reputation for dedication to rigor and process in usability studies. His published studies are the gold standard of the industry. But sometimes he can give the impression that user testing should never be attempted at home.
In today’s Alertbox column, he says just the opposite:
Usability is like cooking: everybody needs the results, anybody can do it reasonably well with a bit of training, and yet it takes a master to produce a gourmet outcome.
I made the same point a while ago in a presentation I did for Forum One, where I walked through lots of shortcuts that still get good usability results, as well as the things you miss out on if you take those shortcuts.
Nielsen mentions several advantages to having a real expert conduct the tests. It’s worth adding another that I covered, and that he might not see as clearly given his perspective:
If you hire an expert, you get their perspective on where in the range people’s reactions fall, and how much attention you should pay to certain observations. For example, how worried should you be that people seemed to take a long time, even though they made the donation okay?
But that said, he’s absolutely right that you don’t need an expert every time, and it’s great to see such a respected researcher inviting amateurs into the kitchen.
Dan Gundeman over at Big Duck posted about some extended time he took off recently.
I took a sabbatical about a decade ago when I was at WashingtonPost.com, and it was wonderful. I’ve been at EDF for five years now, long enough to qualify for our sabbatical program. I started daydreaming over the summer about what I’d do if I applied for a sabbatical, but haven’t yet hit on an idea that would make it worthwhile to take a significant break from my work here. (That’s good — lots of exciting things going on that I don’t want to miss!)
Your organization?€™s mission is vital and can be all-consuming. But remember: you are vital to your organization?€™s mission. For your organization to succeed, you need to find some balance. (whole post)
I’m going to take that as a reminder to do rejuvenating things even if I don’t move to an unused cabin for a month, like he did.
And I’m also taking suggestions for a sabbatical that might drag me away from my desk…
I saw this headline on a post from Jason Fried at 37Signals, and it made a lot of sense to me. Here’s a bit of the post:
[W]hat I really do most of the time is trim, tuck, iron, cut, press, and fit.
My team is incredible. I don?€™t need to tell them what to do. If there was a fantasy software league, I wouldn?€™t trade my team for anyone.
But there are times during the development and design process where the things we make just don?€™t fit as well as they could. That sentence could be slimmed down. That design element could be trimmed off. We could cut a step out of that process. And the overall experience could use a good press to iron out any stubborn wrinkles.
Some people may call this process editing, but I think it?€™s more akin to tailoring. So that?€™s how I?€™m going to explain my job from now on.
There’s something about the word “tailor” that I’m not a fan of, and I don’t actually think it will help me explain my job.
But it’s still cool to see someone who does basically the same thing talk about it like this.