Do these companies do user research or

17 Nov 2006 - 2:08am
7 years ago
5 replies
927 reads
Nathan
2006

The classic juxtaposition I use in my talks is Apple vs. Microsoft or
Adobe.

Both of the latter use tremendous amounts of user research in varying
degrees and of varying types. They spend a lot of money on it. Both
do classic personas, profiles, scenarios, etc. The former (Apple)
does exactly none--at least on their consumer products. This doesn't
mean they don't do any testing, just that they little or none user
research up front. Also, they only cater to one user: Steve. He tests
EVERYTHING! I've been assured of this several times by several
different people in the company.

It begs the question (when you look at the products that come out of
all three): Is user-centered design the problem?

Personally, I don't think so but I do suspect a lot of bad user-
centered this and that being done out there. Apple's got something
that works for them but it's unique and not terribly duplicable. With
every company in the Fortune 500 trying to follow their model to
innovate in their industry, most haven't figured-out that Apple's
approach won't work for most every other company.

Nathan
________________________________________________________

Nathan Shedroff WEB www.nathan.com
Experience Strategist

22 Cleveland Street NET nathan at nathan.com
San Francisco, CA 94103

Comments

17 Nov 2006 - 3:48am
DanP
2006

Totally concur Nathan. I think what's special about Apple's situation
is that the foundation of the technology follows along very well with
the "engineer-responsible' design philosophy of the company under
Steve. At NeXT, the phenomenon was more pronounced (because it was
smaller) - engineers designed, followed and owned their code all
through the process, and the outcome was critiqued *mercilessly* by
senior engineers for usability and overall design as opposed to a
separate design team. The heavy lifting was done up front where
change could be made rapidly, before engineers had moved on to the
next big thing. There were no shortcuts to the process, and engineers
were responsible for their designs for the long haul. Lots of amazing
technology even came out of the build structure itself.. Bug tracking
(anyone out there old enough to remember Tracker?) , code checkin -
it all worked together, and was all home rolled. That just takes time.

I wish every software manager in the industry could have sat through
one of the early "CC" meetings that Avi Tevanian and his staff held.
Very little went unnoticed... I've worked in lots of shops, but I've
never seen anything like it since.

What people see in MacOS X today was predated by about 8 years of
refinement before it was purchased by Apple, and many of the key
architects and designers (Avi, Bertrand Serlet, etc..) have tried to
keep that methodology going.

Of course, that's a highly biased opinion right there, and it's very
possible I've had a little to much wine tonight, so apologies in
advance ;-)

-Dan
SjSU ID

> Apple's got something
> that works for them but it's unique and not terribly duplicable. With
> every company in the Fortune 500 trying to follow their model to
> innovate in their industry, most haven't figured-out that Apple's
> approach won't work for most every other company.

17 Nov 2006 - 7:39am
Todd Warfel
2003

On Nov 17, 2006, at 2:08 AM, Nathan wrote:

> The former (Apple) does exactly none--at least on their consumer
> products. This doesn't mean they don't do any testing, just that
> they little or none user research up front. Also, they only cater
> to one user: Steve. He tests EVERYTHING! I've been assured of this
> several times by several different people in the company.

So, they have one persona they build for - Steve. This is the model
that I've heard Alan Cooper suggests - build it for one persona. Not
two, three, or ten - just one. Seems to be working well for Apple.

> It begs the question (when you look at the products that come out
> of all three): Is user-centered design the problem?

Could be the design process. Could be the corporate culture. One of
the students I had trained at Cornell came back from a summer
internship at Microsoft a couple of years ago. He turned down a job
offer from them. He told us that while they do create personas and do
usability testing, the engineers just round file it. They do it, but
don't use it - it simply gets thrown out. He told us that he saw this
happen several times during his internship.

Doing research and actually implementing based on the results are two
different things.

> Personally, I don't think so but I do suspect a lot of bad user-
> centered this and that being done out there. Apple's got something
> that works for them but it's unique and not terribly duplicable.
> With every company in the Fortune 500 trying to follow their model
> to innovate in their industry, most haven't figured-out that
> Apple's approach won't work for most every other company.

I think most haven't figured out how to make Apple's approach work
for them. In our experience, the corporate culture of most of the
Fortune 500s just don't have the culture to do what Apple does.

If you have an incentive program that is based on Quantity instead of
Quality, your product suffers. If you're incentive is to deliver
something, anything this Quarter to get a bonus, then what will you do?

On the other hand, if you are focused on the long term, deliver a
Quality product, not based on Quarterly bonuses, but keep your eye on
the prize at the end of the road, well, then you have a better
product. Look at Tiger Woods. He has reinvented his swing three
different times. Each time he goes through the process, his game
decreases a bit while he's reperfecting things. But once he's done,
he's a better player in the end every single time. He understands the
long haul.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
Partner, Design & Usability Specialist
Messagefirst | designing and usability consulting
--------------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
--------------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

17 Nov 2006 - 9:24am
Chris McLay
2005

I'm not sure Apple's success has much to do with "testing" in the
sense it is often used here.

Personally, it appears to me that Apple is driven much more from a
design culture, than other software and technology companies, which
come from engineering and scientific cultures. This seems to be the
biggest difference in their approach and their outputs.

On 17/11/2006, at 3:08 PM, Nathan wrote:

> Both of the latter use tremendous amounts of user research in varying
> degrees and of varying types. They spend a lot of money on it. Both
> do classic personas, profiles, scenarios, etc. The former (Apple)
> does exactly none--at least on their consumer products. This doesn't
> mean they don't do any testing, just that they little or none user
> research up front. Also, they only cater to one user: Steve. He tests
> EVERYTHING! I've been assured of this several times by several
> different people in the company.

--
Chris McLay ...// interaction & visual designer

Email chris at eeoh.com.au
Web http://www.eeoh.com.au/chris/

17 Nov 2006 - 3:36pm
Pradyot Rai
2004

On 11/17/06, Nathan <nathan at nathan.com> wrote:
> The classic juxtaposition I use in my talks is Apple vs. Microsoft or
> Adobe.
>
> Both of the latter use tremendous amounts of user research in varying
> degrees and of varying types. They spend a lot of money on it. Both
> do classic personas, profiles, scenarios, etc. The former (Apple)
> does exactly none--at least on their consumer products. This doesn't
> mean they don't do any testing, just that they little or none user
> research up front.

They don't have to, because they employ MBA better than the other two.
Check out yourself --
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/mba100/full_list/

:-)

> It begs the question (when you look at the products that come out of
> all three): Is user-centered design the problem?

I don't think user centered means following users throught make belief
"personas" or "scenarios", or listening exactly what users tell you to
do. User centered also means that you do something which user just
can't express. But there is a different processes for that, which
includes more risk, more talent and lot of nerves.

For many products, which Apple creates, they are innovators in their
own right. They go after things which has been rejected by the users
previously, or is completely new to them. For this kind of approach,
Apple doing what Microsoft does will be comitting suicide. They will
never be able to develop anything that way.

On the other side, Microsoft is least "innovator" in most of the
category. They follow the innovators, small players and get in the
area which is developed by others. They thrive on bulldozing the
segments with economy of scale, and marketing means. When they start
their development, they have lot of things to follow from the
developed products or their users. This kind of work is called
increamental innovation. SO listening to the users does make more
sense when the level of innovation is small and adoption is
predicatable.

(You can debate how well they do on that one, but that's another topic.)

Prady

18 Nov 2006 - 1:41am
npangti
2005

> -----Original Message-----
> From: prady
> Sent: 18 November 2006 02:07
> ...When they start their development, they have lot of things to follow
from the developed products or their users. This kind of work is called
incremental innovation. SO listening to the users does make more sense when
the level of innovation is small and adoption is predictable.

A very debatable point, the outcome of which depends more on how one defines
'user centric'. i mean innovation is about o! and o! is all about meeting an
expectation, a dream. an ipod did not come out of the blue. nor ppl bought
it in loads coz apple had innovated it. of course when we talk about 'user
centric' as a function of 'usability engineering' then what is being said
holds completely true. 'engineering' has of course more letters than
'usability' :-)

regards
navin pangti

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