The split between IxD and Usability

23 Mar 2007 - 1:03pm
7 years ago
20 replies
518 reads
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

More and more lately, I've been thinking that the split between the
work of an interaction designer and the work of a usability specialist
is causing a bit of a rift in the actual implementations of the
resulting designs.

For example, I've seen quite a few sites designed by interaction
designers (reputable ones at that) that fail in all kinds of ways in
terms of usability. Basic best practices, like avoiding horizontal
scrollbars, creating a clear navigation scheme, etc, are being ignored
by the IxDs but would probably be obvious flaws and standard design
for usability specialists.

Does anyone else see this? Is there really a split between the two
professions? I'm sure you can excel in one and not the other, but in
so many companies, one person fills both these roles, and I keep
tripping across things that seem to exceed in one and fail in the
other.

If you're an IxD and there's no usability geek around, isn't it your
responsibility to pick up the slack? Shouldn't a good IxD know a heck
of a lot about usability and HCI in the first place?

-r-

Comments

23 Mar 2007 - 1:13pm
Jack L. Moffett
2005

On Mar 23, 2007, at 2:03 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> If you're an IxD and there's no usability geek around, isn't it your
> responsibility to pick up the slack? Shouldn't a good IxD know a heck
> of a lot about usability and HCI in the first place?

Can you truly be considered an Interaction Designer without having
and employing such knowledge? I consider usability to be an integral
part of IxD–one of its major goals. I expect most of the participants
of this list will feel the same way.

Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.459.0310 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

Questions about whether design
is necessary or affordable
are quite beside the point:
design is inevitable.

The alternative to good design
is bad design, not no design at all.

- Douglas Martin

23 Mar 2007 - 1:34pm
Josh
2006

I definitely see the rift as real and necessary. I've always considered
usability to be about gathering and analyzing user behavior. In my mind,
this is why the best usability folk seem to be psychologists trained in
gathering human behavior info and statistical analysis. I think that
usability should be about protecting users from product guys like me and
interaction designers, just like QA should be about protecting users from
product guys like me and developers. I see the IxD folk as the one's
responsible for implementing the interaction based on product requirements
using the analysis provided by the usability folk. Of course this doesn't
excuse unusable interaction designs created by interaction designers who
ignore or are ignorant of widely accepted usability best practices.

--
Josh Viney
EastMedia Group
http://www.eastmedia.com

23 Mar 2007 - 1:35pm
.pauric
2006

>From an innie perspective I was in the usability testing role at the tail
end of the development process. I felt I would have more effect injecting
that knowledge to the front end, resulting in designs that did not produce
the issues we were discovering in the weeks leading up to ship date.

With that in mind, having been at the coal face for 5 years I can see how
its possible to fall in to the 'creative' role and design for the sake of
designing, while ignoring some of the mundane usability requirements.

Also, there's a lot of new design patterns today that some may not have
spend time putting through usability analysis. That is, someone who has a
background in usabiltiy, maybe working in web1.0, but has moved on to ixd
may not have as deep an understanding of the limitations of the new
patterns.

The solution would be to test your own work, however a fundamental issue
with that theory is that you should never use the same 'equipment' to both
build and test stuff. You see the sense behind your own work and is hard to
applied the objectivity required for usability.

23 Mar 2007 - 1:40pm
Nasir Barday
2006

A project can still suffer if designers follow design guidelines
blindly. The only real way to know if your combination works is with a
deep understanding of your users. I think there's something to be said
for the fact that the IDEA Awards this year require entrants to submit
a research component with their entries across ALL categories. Rock.

Here's a plug: go see Kip Voytek's talk in Philly next week if you're
within easy distance. Snippet from talk description: "Kip will discuss
how interaction design must reach
beyond usability and the satisfaction of user needs in order to truly
help clients achieve their goals." Having seen the talk in New York, I
can vouch for it.

Full announcement:
http://www.howardesign.com/exp/ixd/index.php?post=15418

- Nasir

23 Mar 2007 - 2:11pm
Mark Schraad
2006

In my world, I/we define usability as "staying out of the user's way" - in that it is sort of reactive. Usability is about avoiding doing bad stuff and correcting broken things in the experience. To me, that is just table stacks... the bare minimum and expereicne or UI designer should be taking care of. Enhancing the user expereince is about just that... improving the experience beyond the functional expectations.

To use a car analogy (sorry)... safety issues are to protect the user, but they don't typically enhance the experience of performance driving. I do not appreciate the driving of a porsche for its air bags, though I am really glad that it has them.

Mark

On Friday, March 23, 2007, at 02:03PM, "Robert Hoekman, Jr." <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
>More and more lately, I've been thinking that the split between the
>work of an interaction designer and the work of a usability specialist
>is causing a bit of a rift in the actual implementations of the
>resulting designs.
>
>For example, I've seen quite a few sites designed by interaction
>designers (reputable ones at that) that fail in all kinds of ways in
>terms of usability. Basic best practices, like avoiding horizontal
>scrollbars, creating a clear navigation scheme, etc, are being ignored
>by the IxDs but would probably be obvious flaws and standard design
>for usability specialists.
>
>Does anyone else see this? Is there really a split between the two
>professions? I'm sure you can excel in one and not the other, but in
>so many companies, one person fills both these roles, and I keep
>tripping across things that seem to exceed in one and fail in the
>other.
>
>If you're an IxD and there's no usability geek around, isn't it your
>responsibility to pick up the slack? Shouldn't a good IxD know a heck
>of a lot about usability and HCI in the first place?
>
>-r-

23 Mar 2007 - 2:11pm
Phillip Hunter
2006

Yes.

ph

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Robert
Hoekman, Jr.
Sent: Friday, March 23, 2007 2:03 PM
To: ixd-discussion
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] The split between IxD and Usability

More and more lately, I've been thinking that the split between the
work of an interaction designer and the work of a usability specialist
is causing a bit of a rift in the actual implementations of the
resulting designs.

For example, I've seen quite a few sites designed by interaction
designers (reputable ones at that) that fail in all kinds of ways in
terms of usability. Basic best practices, like avoiding horizontal
scrollbars, creating a clear navigation scheme, etc, are being ignored
by the IxDs but would probably be obvious flaws and standard design
for usability specialists.

Does anyone else see this? Is there really a split between the two
professions? I'm sure you can excel in one and not the other, but in
so many companies, one person fills both these roles, and I keep
tripping across things that seem to exceed in one and fail in the
other.

If you're an IxD and there's no usability geek around, isn't it your
responsibility to pick up the slack? Shouldn't a good IxD know a heck
of a lot about usability and HCI in the first place?

-r-
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23 Mar 2007 - 2:23pm
Jack L. Moffett
2005

On Mar 23, 2007, at 2:34 PM, Josh Viney wrote:

> I see the IxD folk as the one's
> responsible for implementing the interaction based on product
> requirements
> using the analysis provided by the usability folk.

Josh,

Do you really believe that IxDers are just "implementors"?

Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.459.0310 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

I am in search of the
simple elegant seductive
maybe even obvious IDEA.
With this in my pocket
I cannot fail.

- Tibor Kalman

23 Mar 2007 - 2:34pm
natekendrick
2005

this is a good point...

I wonder if it is actually better for me to not attend usability
sessions and observe. Being the guy who personally designed the
product being used (and abused) puts me into an emotional/heightened
state -- which is not a fair and balanced way of evaluation.

But much more importantly, the usability professional is the one who
can separate the wheat from the chaff. The final analysis is what I
tend to hold on to, and not my visceral experience of observation.

As for being "implementors" of usability findings... that's clearly
an oversimplification. That's like a client telling me "make it
pretty". If it was that easy, the proposal wouldn't be costing the
client $50k.

On Mar 23, 2007, at 12:23 PM, Jack Moffett wrote:

>> I see the IxD folk as the one's
>> responsible for implementing the interaction based on product
>> requirements
>> using the analysis provided by the usability folk.
>
> Josh,
>
> Do you really believe that IxDers are just "implementors"?
>
> Jack

23 Mar 2007 - 2:37pm
Josh
2006

Jack,

"Just" is probably not the right word to describe implementation. Execution
is the most difficult part when developing anything. There's no way any of
us would say "developers just implement" or "designers just make things look
pretty". I think the point I was trying to make was more about the logical
separation between the folk that gather and analyze data and the folk that
create based on the data. This isn't to say that one person can't wear
multiple hats, but I don't see many interaction designers running usability
tests, and I definitely don't see many usability folk designing
interactions.

- josh

On 3/23/07, Jack Moffett <jmoffett at inmedius.com> wrote:
>
>
> On Mar 23, 2007, at 2:34 PM, Josh Viney wrote:
>
> > I see the IxD folk as the one's
> > responsible for implementing the interaction based on product
> > requirements
> > using the analysis provided by the usability folk.
>
> Josh,
>
> Do you really believe that IxDers are just "implementors"?
>
> Jack
>
>
> Jack L. Moffett
> Interaction Designer
> inmedius
> 412.459.0310 x219
> http://www.inmedius.com
>
> I am in search of the
> simple elegant seductive
> maybe even obvious IDEA.
> With this in my pocket
> I cannot fail.
>
> - Tibor Kalman
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>

--
Josh Viney
EastMedia Group
http://www.eastmedia.com

23 Mar 2007 - 2:44pm
dmitryn
2004

True. But, to push the car analogy to the breaking point, I would
argue that Porsche-type systems are still a bit of an edge case. I
would suspect that many IxD's out there work primarily on Corolla-type
systems, where a completely different set of considerations comes into
play.

In so many "bread and butter" enterprise systems, usability is nowhere
near table stakes. On the contrary, it can be difficult enough to
achieve that it needs to be among the IxD's top priorities. In that
context, lack of awareness and use of basic usability/HCI principles
on the IxD's part is difficult to justify.

Dmitry

On 3/23/07, Mark Schraad <mschraad at mac.com> wrote:
> In my world, I/we define usability as "staying out of the user's way" - in that it is sort of reactive. Usability is about avoiding doing bad stuff and correcting broken things in the experience. To me, that is just table stacks... the bare minimum and expereicne or UI designer should be taking care of. Enhancing the user expereince is about just that... improving the experience beyond the functional expectations.
>
> To use a car analogy (sorry)... safety issues are to protect the user, but they don't typically enhance the experience of performance driving. I do not appreciate the driving of a porsche for its air bags, though I am really glad that it has them.
>
> Mark
>
>
>
> On Friday, March 23, 2007, at 02:03PM, "Robert Hoekman, Jr." <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
> >More and more lately, I've been thinking that the split between the
> >work of an interaction designer and the work of a usability specialist
> >is causing a bit of a rift in the actual implementations of the
> >resulting designs.
> >
> >For example, I've seen quite a few sites designed by interaction
> >designers (reputable ones at that) that fail in all kinds of ways in
> >terms of usability. Basic best practices, like avoiding horizontal
> >scrollbars, creating a clear navigation scheme, etc, are being ignored
> >by the IxDs but would probably be obvious flaws and standard design
> >for usability specialists.
> >
> >Does anyone else see this? Is there really a split between the two
> >professions? I'm sure you can excel in one and not the other, but in
> >so many companies, one person fills both these roles, and I keep
> >tripping across things that seem to exceed in one and fail in the
> >other.
> >
> >If you're an IxD and there's no usability geek around, isn't it your
> >responsibility to pick up the slack? Shouldn't a good IxD know a heck
> >of a lot about usability and HCI in the first place?
> >
> >-r-
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>

23 Mar 2007 - 2:59pm
Leisa Reichelt
2006

>I don't see many interaction designers running usability
>tests, and I definitely don't see many usability folk designing
>interactions.

*waves arm in air*

i do IxD and usability (and test my own work frequently) and I work
with a couple of dozen others who do the same. We're out there. (and,
as a sidenote, we're outties not innies)

I wish there wasn't a rift at all. I think that usability and design
are very closely tied, and should be throughout the design process.
Usability testing at the end of a project is often very boring and
pointless no matter who does it.

I was just ranting about this the other day: http://tinyurl.com/2la8k7

________________________
Leisa Reichelt
Contextual Research & User Centred Design

leisa.reichelt at gmail.com
www.disambiguity.com

23 Mar 2007 - 2:59pm
Jack L. Moffett
2005

On Mar 23, 2007, at 3:37 PM, Josh Viney wrote:

> "Just" is probably not the right word to describe implementation.
> Execution
> is the most difficult part when developing anything.

I don't believe that is always the case. I have been involved in
projects for which the hard part was understanding the user's trouble
points, or convincing the customer that the user's needs were
different than the customer thought they were. There are many wicked
problems that must be solved before implementation can occur.

> There's no way any of
> us would say "developers just implement" or "designers just make
> things look
> pretty". I think the point I was trying to make was more about the
> logical
> separation between the folk that gather and analyze data and the
> folk that
> create based on the data.

That's why I asked for clarification. I see implementation as a
specific set of tasks that happen at specific points in the design
process. I spend most of my time on tasks that I don't consider to be
implementation.

Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.459.0310 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

Charles Eames was asked the question,
"What are the boundaries of design?"

He answered,

"What are the boundaries of problems?"

- Charles Eames

23 Mar 2007 - 3:12pm
Nasir Barday
2006

This goes back to the big UX "T" we've talked about here before. Even
specialists (people who call themselves IxDs, Usability Testers, etc.)
have (or should have) the skillsets to fill the roles all along the
design process. At this point, I wear all the UX hats here (my id
badge says "Mr. Usability," tho my interest is more IxD and some IA):
Contextual Inquiry, Usability Tests/Reports/Recommendations, IxD, IA,
facilitating design communication tend to fall in my lap.

And for the record, I'm an innie ...

- Nasir

23 Mar 2007 - 3:39pm
Josh
2006

Running usability tests and being involved in usability tests is different.
As we all know, it's damn hard to run a usability test when you've spent
hours/days/months concepting, designing and developing the interactions
being tested. I get emotionally invested in the products I design/create,
and it's damn hard for me to sit back and ask a user to "tell me more",
"please think out-loud", etc. while they click on "all the wrong links".
Maybe this is merely my limitation, but it makes me a fan of labor
specialization.

Consider that usability testing and analysis should be scientific and
objective. It's about gathering information, listening, reporting and not
judging. By contrast, interaction design is opinionated. The two mindsets
differ at a fundamental level.

--
Josh Viney
EastMedia Group
http://www.eastmedia.com

23 Mar 2007 - 4:11pm
.pauric
2006

" usability testing and analysis should be scientific and
objective. It's about gathering information, listening, reporting and not
judging. By contrast, interaction design is opinionated. The two mindsets
differ at a fundamental level."

So it pays to be schizophrenic at last (o;

Aside from the emotional detachment needed (should we be psychopaths too??)
there is another issue being both the designer and tester. Example:
Remember the faulty Hubble mirror? One of the primary faults in the process
that sent the telescope to space, fault undetected, was that the same piece
of equipment was used to both build the mirror and then test that the mirror
was built correctly.

Being a single point of failure in the process is a risk that is easily
reduced.

23 Mar 2007 - 3:52pm
adamya ashk
2004

On 3/23/07, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
> Does anyone else see this? Is there really a split between the two
> professions? I'm sure you can excel in one and not the other, but in
> so many companies, one person fills both these roles, and I keep
> tripping across things that seem to exceed in one and fail in the
> other.

I've seen examples of both; there are groups where usability and
IxD/IA simply meld into each other. This constantly results in
innovative solutions which are surprisingly usable and so, push the
envelope.
Then there are places where the whole process is simply tilted towards
IxD/IA [read late usability testing] or usability/user research [every
'new' thing has to be based on what the 'users' said]. Sadly, in the
second type of groups the disciplines are a little silo'd.

Can you excel in one without letting go of the other?
The answer is, like most times in our profession, 'It depends'. It
depends on the type and scope of the project/problem, aptitude of the
practitioner and frankly the culture of the company.
It's difficult to be a master of both these aspects of UX. So the best
bet is to establish a flexible process, beware of 'deliverable-ism',
test quickly and often and then dissect within the team. Also, keep in
mind that IxD is a creative process and so the designers have a
certain right to be attached to their design. Innovation often comes
from ownership.

> If you're an IxD and there's no usability geek around, isn't it your
> responsibility to pick up the slack? Shouldn't a good IxD know a heck
> of a lot about usability and HCI in the first place?

Yes, however in practice it is very tough to dissociate yourself from
the design. So no amount of usability expertise helps the usability
person when she 'designs'. I've seen many usability folks fall in love
with features and functionality and make the same mistakes that their
IxD counterparts are accused of.
One of the ways to avoid this is to plan for rough and dirty tests
early on in the process rather then letting the design become too
concrete or finished.

I wish you all a pleasant weekend!

-Adamya
Usabilty/IA Staples Inc.

24 Mar 2007 - 4:47am
dszuc
2005

"I wear all the UX hats here" - Me too.

Have worked on projects and done Usability Testing, Reviews, IA, Site Visits
etc etc and IxD (preference pencil and paper - moved into PPT or Visio).
Like the idea of iterating rough designs and not "futzing" with "UI
controls"

Rgds,

Daniel Szuc
Principal Usability Consultant
Apogee Usability Asia Ltd
www.apogeehk.com
'Usability in Asia'

The Usability Toolkit - http://www.sitepoint.com/books/usability1/

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Nasir
Barday
Sent: Saturday, March 24, 2007 4:12 AM
To: Leisa Reichelt
Cc: ixd-discussion
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] The split between IxD and Usability

This goes back to the big UX "T" we've talked about here before. Even
specialists (people who call themselves IxDs, Usability Testers, etc.) have
(or should have) the skillsets to fill the roles all along the design
process. At this point, I wear all the UX hats here (my id badge says "Mr.
Usability," tho my interest is more IxD and some IA): Contextual Inquiry,
Usability Tests/Reports/Recommendations, IxD, IA, facilitating design
communication tend to fall in my lap.

And for the record, I'm an innie ...

- Nasir ________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/ (Un)Subscription
Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org

24 Mar 2007 - 10:45am
Adrian Howard
2005

On 23 Mar 2007, at 18:03, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> More and more lately, I've been thinking that the split between the
> work of an interaction designer and the work of a usability specialist
> is causing a bit of a rift in the actual implementations of the
> resulting designs.
[snip]

Ditto. I find the whole UX/IxDA/IA/Usability/whatever turf wars
somewhat bizarre. There are a whole bunch of practices and skills
that we need to use to get good products out of the door. Saying that
person A is only allowed do do X, and person B is only allowed to do
Y seems odd and counter productive.

Having seem the harm that a similar split (developers vs testers) has
done in the software world - and how much the process improves when
we have developers who can test, and testers who can develop, I can
see nothing but harm in hard divisions like this.

Different people do have different knowledge and skills, but the kind
of hard demarcation I've seen spring up in some organisations seems
harmful in the extreme.

Cheers,

Adrian

24 Mar 2007 - 10:47am
Adrian Howard
2005

On 23 Mar 2007, at 19:59, Leisa Reichelt wrote:

>> I don't see many interaction designers running usability
>> tests, and I definitely don't see many usability folk designing
>> interactions.
>
> *waves arm in air*

Ditto :-)

I'm often involved with implementing it too!

Adrian

24 Mar 2007 - 3:44pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

I didn't realize this would be such a controversial topic.

Regardless of the split between roles, to me, it's the IxDs job to
solve most of the usability issues in the first place. When IxDs don't
do this, I feel the IxD has failed.

This is why it bothers me so much when I see an IxD considered
reputable doing things that are well-known to be bad practice. Seems
to me that if you can't eliminate most of the usability issues from
the start, you should consider finding another job. Harsh, yes, but I
know I wouldn't hire someone who couldn't design something usable
without the aid of a usability specialist.

I think if I were to put a hard definition on it, a usability
specialist's job is to study how people work with computers (by way of
studying specific applications), find the problems, analyze them,
present findings, etc, and an IxD's job (part of it, anyway) is to
apply that knowledge to his/her designs. (IxDs obviously do a lot more
than this, but it's an essential part nonetheless.)

-r-

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