Thursday, October 13, 2011

I don't care, and neither should you

With a (briefly, before I leave this job) new UX manager, I ran into one of my other terminology issues. I enjoy saying we solve "problems," which bugs a lot of business people, as it implies that there are problems! Which is true to me, but I often have to say "challenges" or "opportunities" or other (frankly) bullshit. But today's special challenge phrase is "I don't care." What I mean is that "either of the two options presented can solve the stated problem equally well. I have no personal opinion." Of course, what people hear is "I could give a crap about your stupid company and this pointless project, and am just phoning in my work on this one." Of course, I am aware of this, so never use it in front of clients; it's an internal term for the design team, which I usually remember to explain first. Usually. Ideally, I'd have another term for this, so someone offer me one. Because, I cannot just say that I have an opinion on everything. This speaks to the core of every issue I have with interactive design today. UX/HF/HCI/IA/IxD/Etc. has become such a populist thing that a lot of practitioners are untrained, or poorly-trained, and even if experienced are unread and do not get the basics. Sorry, but as far as I see it, it's true. That leaves everyone to work their design the way everyone else nearby, in marketing and product development, seems to work their jobs: opinion, previous-experience, anecdote and whoever has the most political power. But I base my design decisions on my understanding of the scientific underpinnings. See how we laid out Designing Mobile Interfaces (on the web also); the patterns are typical interactive design communication. This works, and this other thing doesn't, because people might get confused... But the beginning of each chapter (and a lot of information in the appendices) cover why this is true. Cognitive psychology and human physiology underlie all of this. If you don't understand these, or at least trust people who do understand them, then you are not pursuing UX from an informed, repeatable point of view, and are just drawing whatever seems pretty at the time. This same philosophy is why we distrust market research like focus groups, and get strict about how we interpret usability research, surveys, and analytics. So, when I present or see two or three or five options for a design, once the obvious issues have been pointed out, I sometimes have no opinion. I have no personal opinion, and it needs to be up to the marketing intent, branding, visual design, or we need to make sure that there is no other secret requirement (e.g. unexpressed future needs) that can drive us to one solution or the other. There are plenty of ways to decide on one or the other, but if two options are equally valid solutions from a UX point of view, either look harder, or feel free to have no formal opinion.

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