DonnaM » Blog Archive » How do they do it?

How do they do it?

User centred design has spoiled me. I cannot conceive of how other people undertake systems design.

I was talking to a programmer today who works for a business who does business software development for a large client. Their process is that the client sends a requirements document, they go back and forth a few times to sort out some detail, and he codes the software or enhancement.

He never, ever sees a user, does not know who they are or what they do. The client has some user contact, but it is limited, and he has never spent time watching how people go about their day to day work. The requirements that are documented are very basic and never describe any more than the bare bones of what they want done.

I simply cannot imagine how this process could create anything even semi-decent. I know from my design experience that to create a good design (not even a great design), I need to understand the context. I need to know what the users already know, what they are doing at the same time as this task, what’s around them. These are the details that provide me with the information to take the magic leap and create a design that works. Without them I’d be making it all up, and there is little chance that it would be right.

9 Responses to “How do they do it?”

  1. Opposable Thumbs Says:

    Designing in the Dark

    This sounds painfully familiar: I was talking to a programmer today who works for a business who does business software development for a large client. Their process is that the client sends a requirements document, they go back and forth a few times t…

  2. Richard Callaby Says:

    Unfortunately this is far too common. Many small companies just breaking into this whole “software development thing” have the same methology. Basically I believe that this is in large part to keep the “dirty programmer” away from their “precious client”. Ultimately this whole process will fail as the customer becomes totally dissatisfied with the whole experience and then decides to go somewhere else. What is worse is when a customer has no responsiblity for the product and would rather see you fail. Also sometimes you have a company competing to be the outsourced I.T. department but also needs information from that department and you cannot get it because the manager has no vested interest in helping you. Sad to say this is by far too common by my measure.

  3. Thomas Lockney Says:

    Addressing Richars point: the sad thing is, this isn’t just common to companies who are new to the “software development thing” or in risk/consideration of outsourcing. The fact is, this IS a big part of old fashioned software development. Sure, the lightweight methodologies tend stress customer involvement, but the truth is that most companies have not adopted these practices. Of the various companies I’ve worked for/with, only a small handful actually got out in front of the “customers” and talked to them directly. And from talking to my friends and associates at other companies, I can tell you this is the norm.

  4. Rob Jones Says:

    I just finished working for 4 years at a company where I was the UI designer and never once met face-to-face with an end-user. The company believed that only sales and professional services needed to “bother” the customer.

    I think that you can build “decent” sofware in such an environment, but it may not be very useful software. I know that this is an issue of semantics, but most people thought our software was powerful and easy-to-use when trying it out. The problem was they were looking at it in a vacuum, not in terms of a user trying to accomplish tasks. This is where it feel flat whenever we shipped to a new client.

    Unfortunately, this is all-too-common in the software world. The ironic thing is I had the VP of Engineering read “Inmates are running the asylum” and he instantly recognized where we were going wrong, but he did not have the ability to change the rest of the organization, so things did not really change much as a result.

    In the end its all about the people using the software, and UCD seems to be the best way to get them what they need.

  5. Lockergnome's Web Developers Says:

    User-centred Design

    Are you working to generate user-centered design? This is a concept that revolves around the principle that your product (website, program, whatever) meets the with the needs of your potential users. Is it fairly easy to use, do the users…

  6. Tony Says:

    Having been stuck in this situation myself, I truly think it’s because they think they know the user. They know what the user wants, thinks etc.

    They don’t know this by talking to the user, they know this because they think they know what the user should want. It’s a tough re-education process.

  7. Steve Portigal Says:

    I’ve had positive experiences in my role as the “user research guy” coming into situations where there was a strong desire among engineers to do the right thing, to be user-centered, to make good decisions based on what would be best for the user. But I’ve also found a challenging lack of understanding of what it really means to be “user-centered” – beyond active lip service. I’ve had engineers tell me how excited they were to have customers tell them whether they wanted the auto-inject loading mechanism or the snap-button flap loader, and how much mechanical tension would be best at what depth. In other words, they wanted the end-user to make all the design decisions for them, that way, they’d be user-centered. They had no grasp on the relationship between the type of information they would be getting and the decisions they would still have to make. Obviously, a lot of my role was to translate, but there were a lot of engineers making a lot of different decisions and I wasn’t able to transform the culture…my decision-guiding information was useful to those that understood how to make the best decision with that information in front of them.

    The notion that their job was simply to ask people what they wanted and then go and do it was sadly misinformed. The organization had done a good job at getting their hearts in the right place, but were lacking a real grasp of some better ways to do product development.

  8. Bruce Phillips Says:

    per steve
    “The notion that their job was simply to ask people what they wanted and then go and do it was sadly misinformed. The organization had done a good job at getting their hearts in the right place, but were lacking a real grasp of some better ways to do product development”

    how true… end users know or may know what they want. However…. they do not know that what they want…. may be “bad” for them. Most (prospects) do not think things through. My experience has been that great systems do very simple (easy) things elegantly.

  9. Lockergnome's Web Developers Says:

    User-Centered Deadlines

    In response to Matt Hartley’s post User-Centered Design, which was, in itself, a response to her original post How Do They Do It?, Donna Maurer writes: Actually, if you have a deadline, user centered design should be the first thing…