How did I get into this anyway?

A quick summary of my trajectory into user experience:

  1. Write embedded programs to control freezers. Try and make them suitable for maintenance engineers to use: i.e, give clear info easily
  2. Describe programs and write manuals
  3. Become a full-time tech author
  4. Train and write training courses
  5. Become very aware of what users had problems with
  6. Work for software companies
  7. Realise that whenever I couldn’t describe something easily, that meant it was poor design
  8. Try and persuade engineers of this
  9. Do an MSc in Human Computer Interaction and Ergonomics in an attempt to convince engineers that I really did know what I was talking about
  10. Lie on floor and bite carpet.

No. Omit the last step. I have never lain on the floor and bitten the carpet. I have been tempted to, frequently. I have succumbed to offering engineers chocolate, looming over them, complimenting on their English skills and wearing fairy wings. But not carpet-mastication. Yet.

My current problem (the one that is making me consider taking a quick chew on the washable wool/acrylic shagpile) is how to get people to think about what a user does as opposed to what they do.

In fact, to understand that users are people too. I sometimes feel as if I’m trying to explain to a Daily Mail reader that there might be a reason why people are in debt that doesn’t involve feckless spending on alcohol, tobacco and Sky sports.

Yes, users are not interested in how wonderful and clever your product is. They don’t care. They just want to do their job and then do something that they find interesting (which may, of course, involve feckless spending on tobacco, alcohol and Sky sports). They may have to run their payroll while a patient is vomiting in the waiting room and two doctors are off sick and someone has forgotten they’re the on call doctor that day and their car has broken down and they’re thinking about their snowboarding holiday. They do not have a calm uninterrupted environment to set up the best possible way of doing it. They just want it done and out of the way as quickly and effectively as possible: in their terms, not ours.

OK.  Developers might agree with this, briefly, but they don’t have time to make it any simpler because they have to get a new release out. And they need the new release out because the sellers have to have something to sell so that we have money coming in which will ultimately pay for my tobacco, alcohol and Sky sports habit. And how does it get decided what’s in the new release?

It gets decided by David and Gavin, chatting about what they can do and what they think is cool and what they imagine people might want because one of them saw something like this last week on a website and thought that’s a good idea and our competitors are doing it anyway. If they were designing Daleks they’d have vampire teeth and a six pack because they’d heard Twilight was making a fortune. And they’d produce a full working prototype of a Dalek with vampire teeth and a six-pack. Not a wireframe or a sketch or even a mock-up. No, because it will be brilliant and they need it by Christmas so they can’t afford to waste time. And they’d get all the engineers to stop what they were doing to redesign the Dalek head set to fit in those vampire teeth. And to rewrite all the libraries to make them incorporate a blood-drinking ability. And then look at the results and say “That’s not what we wanted at all”.

At which point the temptation to fling myself to the floor and get a mouthful of tufts is quite high.

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