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Ozchi keynote: User centred design: is it working

Here are the slides from my keynote at Ozchi 2006 last week. My talk was called “User centred design: Is it working?” which is a bit lame, but I really couldn’t come up with a better one.

I talked about 3 things:

  1. my take on where the practitioner user-centred design field is currently up to
  2. a look at some of the neat apps practitioners are interested in (and I didn’t say web 2.0 once)
  3. what I think we need to do to move forward

I recorded it and here it is in two parts – the first file combines the first two topics, the second file combines the last topic plus questions (if you were there, you’ll hear some edits – I trimmed the questions we couldn’t hear and deleted an example from the body of the talk):

The second file is definitely more interesting than the first, but the first gives context.

And here’s some quotes from the second part of the presentation:

  • We have to stop selling usability. It doesn’t have a value proposition. Usability is a quality aspect of something – it is not a process, an artefact, a deliverable or anything that anyone cares about what you are going to give them. I read consultants websites and I think, if I didn’t already know about that, I wouldn’t have a clue about what you are trying to sell me.
  • We want to swoop in and be the centre of the universe and be involved and involved up front and be the centre of it and forget that we are working in teams and working in a context.
  • We’ve got to stop treating people like they are stupid, because they’re actually not. Developers are not stupid. I think Jakob Nielsen and Alan Cooper have done our whole field a disservice by peddling the fact that developers are stupid…They’re working within what they know, we work within the stuff we know and nobody ever knows everything. Nobody goes to work to do a bad days work. More than any community I’ve seen, our community treats them like they’re dumb.
  • I think that Jakob Nielsen’s stuff should be removed from the galaxy…all those bloody rules that don’t fit in any context and lure people into a feeling that you can just get these rules and get it right.

8 Responses to “Ozchi keynote: User centred design: is it working”

  1. Tuna Says:

    Thanks.. this is so topical, I’m just trying to convince an IT Manager that his developers need to consider implementing fully usable ajax, while still maintaining a degree of best practice.

    Personally I approach usability as part of the process not the process. Its almost impossible to sell usability, its like trying to sell accessibility as a function, it has to be degrees of a feature / optional component.

    I always try and lift the developers up and get them involved, get them to implement “Best Practice”, I find that in most cases they want to make things easier to use and enhance the usability, as they often learn new skills etc. They just need someone to convince their boss that its worth the budget etc.

    As for Mr Nielsen et al, I strongly believe that we have all moved on and he has not. His ideas are now mere guidelines, sometimes one has to step outside the lines he has placed in the sand… Maybe we should have a mass Nielsen book burning…;)

  2. Sam Says:

    Why do I get the feeling the baby is lying outside in a pool of bathwater?

    Jacob Nielsen might not be the end all be all, but who has had anything close to his impact on “design” improvement across the web? Would the web be easier to use if he’d never published an article? Not a chance! We are not the center of the universe: there are millions of people out there who benefit from his stuff because it’s at their level.

    Design is not usability. Usability (and engagement, and reuse of data, and facilitating community) are simply aspects of design.

    I don’t sell usability myself; it’s beyond my clients. And yet, quality design IS about a lot more than just the visuals. It encompasses a lot of experience and knowledge. That kind of quality costs money, so it has to be quantified somehow. I’d be interested in hearing how others clearly communicate the depth of this kind of design process. After all, who hasn’t seen companies throw thousands at eye-candy flash that is all looks and no substance?

  3. Paul Says:

    Donna – As usual you’re right on point. Hopefully, the discussion will move beyond what the folks at N/N say, do or mean.

    On Jakob, I think *everyone* is right on point, actually. One of my colleagues, who witnessed my displeasure at one of his columns, pointed out to me that someone has to be the champion. Jakob has been that. I often find his writings either obvious or absurd, but I wouldn’t have done the dozen or so full scale tests I did this year, or have ever heard a developer utter the word “context,” without him I suspect.

    I look forward to the day when people don’t say that I “do” usability.

  4. Louise Hewitt Says:

    I’m not sure if you are familiar with our English tradition of Guy Fawkes night, but I’m considering a campaign to rename it Jakob Neilson night. That way we could all warm ourselves around his burning effigy on a cold winter’s evening.


  5. Ron Zeno Says:

    Bravo Donna! Keep up the good work.

  6. Vijay Says:

    Interesting presentation. Response below not intended to be a rebuttal. I am probably wrong with things I’ve said below. I am never gonna know unless I hear about it from someone.

    1. I don’t think we can stop selling usability until the top management buys-in to the fact that it is an aspect of product quality. We can say all we want that that usability is not a value proposition but are THEY listening? The decision makers think in terms of Customer Value Proposition and we’ve gotta speak in their language until there is a complete buy-in for what we do. And that will take some more time.

    2. Unfair assessment. I don’t know where you are getting this from. I don’t quite understand – are you suggesting that usability professionals are not team players and that we forget the context or factors at play. This is not true for all. I think most recognize that nothing will get done if you don’t take the team with you and if you ignore the context. I have not known a single usability professional who works in the manner you have described.

    3. You are way wrong here – plain and simple. A Cooper fan will not take this lying down! :) Developers are not stupid? – Yes! Cooper never said they are. Alan Cooper just said that developers have an inherent love for complexity owing to the fact that programming is complex work. He has consistently said that programmers are brilliant – brilliant at CODING. Since users have no love for complex applications, he said that developers attempting to design the UI was recipe for disaster. The very fact that the field of UI design exists is because developers have failed in this area. That does not make them stupid. Even if it does, don’t say Alan Cooper said it did! :)

    How can you even talk about Cooper and Neilson together? This is such an insult to all Cooper has done! :) Besides, Cooper and Neilson (despite how much I despise his heuristics) have never done disservice. Our field is where it is today to a great extent because of people like them.

    4. As I have already indicated, I ain’t no fan of Jakob Neilson – you can bash him as much as you like. I think you’d find a lot of people who’d support the stance. I am so glad that you said that about Neilson in the conference! Bravo! No true usability professional I know uses these heuristics anymore! I was forced to use those context-insensitive heuristics for 3 months in a university course – what torture! I have come to hate them to a point you cannot imagine.

    5. When you spoke of Dan Saffer’s book – you said we needed a book that taught people how to think. I am not sure I understand what you mean here – can you please expand on that?

    Merry Christmas!

  7. mark Says:

    There is value in quality and being hard to use is an extremely frustrating quality.

  8. Martin Says:

    I agree with you Donna, you can

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