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Archive for July, 2009

Learning how to make UX decisions

I just had a great time recording a Userability Podcast where Jared Spool and Robert Hoekman answer my questions about how UX practitioners can learn to make good decisions about which methods to employ in their work.

[I'll update this with a link once it's published]

My question is an old concern about how new practitioners are being introduced to User Experience Design and Research practices by being fed a multitude of methods and not given much support about how to decide the right circumstances to use them.

It is not sufficient just to know how a certain method works. It is also not sufficient having used that method once or twice. What is it about our experience as practitioners that makes us better or worse decision makers? How do we choose to dedicate time and money to an 8-week long project to produce personas instead of a different approach?

What distinguishes the practitioners that not only choose methods and know how to apply them, but choose the methods that are most effective for a given problem?

A few years ago, Jared himself told me a story about an experiment where two distinct research teams (unaware of each other I believe) were given the exact same research goal and employed the same methodology to achieve it, and came up with different results and findings.

When that sort of thing happens, I wonder: Can we really trust our methods? But more importantly, if we accept that our methods are not really scientific and that we can’t really have a high level of confidence about the results we end up with, how do we choose one over another?

Somehow we just do. But some do better than others. Some do MUCH better than MANY others. If you have the opportunity to work with practitioners with enough experience and knowledge, you see excellent arguments for why to do A versus B for a given set of circumstances. So yes, only experience will help one make better choices, but everyone’s experiences are different. As a way to try to educate new practitioners we coach and mentor by teaching the methods and also giving advice such as “be flexible” and “don’t marry a particular process” and “figure out what kind of problem you are trying to solve first”, which are all excellent advice, but not strategic enough and often not practical enough that it can really help someone make a decision when they are faced with a new challenge.

Jared’s opinion is that our field is still too young and we haven’t yet been able to articulate the criteria we use in that decision-making process. I agree, however, it worries me that many think they are advancing in their practice because they know more, when in fact, they just learned new methods, but don’t really have the skills to assess risks, and benefits, between choosing one over another.

Being a runner gets you to the finish line, knowing which way to run wins the race. I really hope we become better equipped to pass on knowledge about how we make choices and why because, paraphrasing Jared, knowing a lot of recipes a restauranteur does not make.