Interaction design vs. Usability -> differences in competency

20 Jul 2004 - 5:23am
10 years ago
10 replies
976 reads
zayera at bluewin.ch
2004

Hi folks,

I would like to discuss the issues, of Interaction design vs. Usability.
>From my perspective, since I am trying to fit into both "Shoes" I find it
very difficult to work in a Team, where only Usability Experts are around,
and noone representing Interaction design or a broader UX-perspective.

I have been thinking about why it is so?
Could it be that the "design-thinking" is completely uncomprehendable for
some Usability Experts? Meaning that they don't understand that there are
FUNDAMENTAL differences both approaches.
Or is it because 2 competencies are trying to attack a problem/solve an issue
with different mindsets and think that the other person is not "qualified"
enough to appreciate their work?

So therefore I would like to ask, if any of you have similiar experiences?
And how do you go about it?

Another issues seems also to be a Geographical & Cultural one...where both
competencies are perceived and enacted differently depending on which Country
& Culture we are talking about. In my case it is Swedish vs. Swiss :-(
Even though both European, these cultures and work mentally differ very much.
So therefore I am womdering if it is better in other countries?

Regards,
Zayera

Comments

20 Jul 2004 - 7:06am
Dan Saffer
2003

Well, one main difference is that designers create things. Usability
experts can only test things that are already created. Huge difference
there.

"Usable" is only one third of the (by now almost cliche) design trinity
of usable, useful, and desirable. Designers care about things that
usability folks don't. We have problems to solve (making things useful
and desirable) that simply aren't in the realm of usability and its
methodology.

This being said, usability experts are great to have around. It's bad
practice to be your own usability tester; you are biased about the
stuff you made and you know how it is supposed to work. It's the reason
you don't typically have developers testing their own code. But you
need to have some clear boundaries about when the usability tester gets
involved in the design process and the type of input they have.

This depends on the people involved, of course. Some usability folks
are well-versed in what we do and respect design. Others, well,
(*cough* Jakob *cough*) need to be educated a little more.

Dan

20 Jul 2004 - 9:11am
Elizabeth Buie
2004

Dan Saffer wrote:

<<Well, one main difference is that designers create things. Usability
experts can only test things that are already created. Huge difference
there.>>

Nonsense. Usability *testers* can only test things that are already
created. Usability *engineers* may also design them.

To coin a phrase -- "Huge difference there." :-)

Elizabeth

--
Elizabeth Buie
Computer Sciences Corporation
Rockville, Maryland
301.921.3326

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20 Jul 2004 - 9:51am
Dan Saffer
2003

On Jul 20, 2004, at 10:11 AM, Elizabeth Buie wrote:

> Usability *testers* can only test things that are already
> created. Usability *engineers* may also design them.
>

Please enlighten me then as to what usability engineers do: how their
process differs from that of interaction designers. Are they creating
products from scratch or simply modifying existing designs to solve
usability problems? My guess is that anyone who is a "usability
engineer" and doing the former is really practicing interaction design
under a different title.

Dan

20 Jul 2004 - 10:20am
whitneyq
2010

At 10:51 AM 7/20/2004 -0400, Dan Saffer wrote:
>> Usability *testers* can only test things that are already
>>created. Usability *engineers* may also design them.
>
>Please enlighten me then as to what usability engineers do: how their
>process differs from that of interaction designers. Are they creating
>products from scratch or simply modifying existing designs to solve
>usability problems? My guess is that anyone who is a "usability engineer"
>and doing the former is really practicing interaction design under a
>different title.

I believe that this is true. (Or might we say that interaction design is a
newer term for work previously called usability engineering)

I would add that someone who uses the title "usability engineer" probably
also has a user-centered focus to their work (is this true of all
interaction designers?)

The whole title question is a difficult one, and has as much to do with
when you "got on the bus" (that is, what words were in vogue when you
picked your title) or the title culture in your organization as with
anything else.

I recently talked to the director of a graduate program in HCI who bemoaned
the fact that they were trapped in a word that no longer perfectly
reflected their real focus (interaction design, ucd, usability) - but that
you could not just change the title of a formal academic program easily.

I've worked places where the people designing the UI were called "usability
analysts" because this paralleled the titles of system and business
analysts with whom they worked, and because the work I call "design"
happened in a methodology phase called "analysis". Too confusing.

In my experience, "usability engineers" often work along side "software
engineers," who work alongside "engineers" who might work with "human
factor engineers".

As a consultant, this is chaos, but you learn to find the words that are
meaningful for each client, and that communicate as clearly as possible
what you will actually do for them.

It may not be fun working in such an "interesting time," but it does mean
that we have to listen carefully to what people MEAN as well as what words
they use.

Perhaps, like Prince, we should simply use symbols.

Whitney Quesenbery
Whitney Interactive Design, LLC
w. www.WQusability.com
e. whitneyq at wqusability.com
p. 908-638-5467

UPA - www.usabilityprofessionals.org
STC Usability SIG: www.stcsig.org/usability

20 Jul 2004 - 10:08am
Elizabeth Buie
2004

Dan Saffer writes:

<<Please enlighten me then as to what usability engineers do: how their
process differs from that of interaction designers. Are they creating
products from scratch or simply modifying existing designs to solve
usability problems?>>

Could be either, depending on the project.

<<My guess is that anyone who is a "usability
engineer" and doing the former is really practicing interaction design
under a different title.>>

"Really" strikes me as an interesting choice of words here. As if they
were pretending to do something else but "really" doing interaction
design.

Interaction design is part of what some usability engineers do. I've seen
plenty of teams with a usability engineer and no interaction designer, and
it is the usability engineer who is responsible for doing the interaction
design (and sometimes the graphic design). The usability of the
interaction is an aspect of the usability of the product, eh? :-)

Engineering includes some aspects of design, whether human factors
engineering, usability engineering, system engineering, software
engineering -- it's just the scope of design that varies among these. If
the usability staff is doing only testing, they're usability testers
rather than usability engineers.

btw, I agree with Dave Heller that we are talking about roles and
responsibilities here, and not individuals.

Elizabeth
--
Elizabeth Buie
Computer Sciences Corporation
Rockville, Maryland, USA
+1.301.921.3326

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20 Jul 2004 - 12:02pm
Elizabeth Buie
2004

Dan Saffer quotes:

<<Too much user focus may be a barrier to innovation.>>

So? Why are we innovating if not to help people do stuff better? Is this
an attitude of "He who dies with the most toys wins"?

<<Ask them if they would use a proposed innovation
and they will say no - and then adopt it when they have seen its
utility demonstrated.>>

Those who think this is part of usability engineering are not usability
engineers.

Even Nielsen (with whom I disagree fairly regularly) has called this
"voodoo usability."

<<They might note the sentiment of BBC titan Lord Reith, who
when asked whether he was going to give the people what they wanted,
replied: "No. Something better than that.">>

Exactly.

(This is what usability engineering is about.)

Elizabeth
--
Elizabeth Buie
Computer Sciences Corporation
Rockville, Maryland, USA
+1.301.921.3326

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20 Jul 2004 - 12:18pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Jul 20, 2004, at 11:08 AM, Elizabeth Buie wrote:

> Dan Saffer writes:
> <<My guess is that anyone who is a "usability
> engineer" and doing the former is really practicing interaction design
> under a different title.>>
>
> "Really" strikes me as an interesting choice of words here. As if they
> were pretending to do something else but "really" doing interaction
> design.
>

Some people have never heard the term "interaction design" and practice
it under other names. I wasn't implying any slight on them. Part of our
goal as an organization is to attract and educate them and the world
about what we do and why we do it.

> Interaction design is part of what some usability engineers do. I've
> seen
> plenty of teams with a usability engineer and no interaction designer,
> and
> it is the usability engineer who is responsible for doing the
> interaction
> design (and sometimes the graphic design).

What does the usability engineer do when there IS an interaction
designer on the team?

Dan

21 Jul 2004 - 4:54am
Andrei Sedelnikov
2004

> So therefore I am womdering if it is better in other countries?

I was studying and started to work still in my own country, Russia. In
the times when the need for user-centered development (or however
you'd call it) has started to penetrate into our country, the word
"usability" was the most branded one in the world. Because of this
fact and partly because a new profession needs a new name for a
self-identification, the word "usability" (simply phonetically
transcripted into russian) has started to mean everything related to
user-centered development: testing, analysis, research, design (in the
meaning of 'creation').

That meaning of usability and usability engineering has stayed with me
all this years. It was even always supported from the outside: for
example the user-centered design process from UPA includes all types
of activities. Only probably a year before now I have at first time
met across the opinion that "usability" means roughly only "usability
testing". Usually this opinion have people who came into the field of
"developing the interaction" from adjacent fields, i.e. design (in the
meaning of art, visual design, product design). I'm not going to
advocate either for "usability" or for "design". I believe we are all
speaking about the same discipline, only its name and its content were
not completely established yet.

Andrei Sedelnikov
http://usabilist.de/en

21 Jul 2004 - 8:28am
whitneyq
2010

At 11:54 AM 7/21/2004 +0200, Andrei Sedelnikov wrote:
>... the word "usability" (simply phonetically
>transcripted into russian) has started to mean everything related to
>user-centered development: testing, analysis, research, design (in the
>meaning of 'creation').

This is certainly the way it is used at the UPA (Usability Professionals'
Association).

At a previous company, we held onto the word "usability" because it was the
one that our clients understood and used.

Whitney Quesenbery
Whitney Interactive Design, LLC
w. www.WQusability.com
e. whitneyq at wqusability.com
p. 908-638-5467

UPA - www.usabilityprofessionals.org
STC Usability SIG: www.stcsig.org/usability

22 Jul 2004 - 1:44am
zayera at bluewin.ch
2004

Hello Andrei,

Actually I do think that there is a major difference between "usability fields"
and "design fields", not only because different Methodologies and work techniques
are applied, but also that there is/or could be a fundamental difference
in the perception of what "human interaction" should be about.
Therefore I would have to disagree with you and compare it with this unfair
analogy:
Usability, Design, Interaction design, HCI, Human factors are like sects/different
Churches under the same "religion".
Thus depending on which "high-priest" you agree with, you'll likely follow
that direction since it attracts and communicates a vital message to you.
My issue is that we have too many self-nominated "high priests" and yes some
are even pretty established (each country has it's own set of Gurus), but
that does not mean that they are 100% correct and accurate even though some
of these persons/companies do seem to sell the/their ultimate view on "usability
& design".
But again I don't know if an open disagreement is the best solution either,
since everyone else (business & IT persons for example) will probably be
confused and not know anymore what "usability & design" is really about...

Just my opinion...
Zayera

>-- Original-Nachricht --
>Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2004 11:54:54 +0200
>From: Andrei Sedelnikov <usabilist at gmail.com>
>To: "zayera at bluewin.ch" <zayera at bluewin.ch>
>Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] Interaction design vs. Usability -> differences
>in competency
>Cc: discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com
>
>
>> So therefore I am womdering if it is better in other countries?
>
>I was studying and started to work still in my own country, Russia. In
>the times when the need for user-centered development (or however
>you'd call it) has started to penetrate into our country, the word
>"usability" was the most branded one in the world. Because of this
>fact and partly because a new profession needs a new name for a
>self-identification, the word "usability" (simply phonetically
>transcripted into russian) has started to mean everything related to
>user-centered development: testing, analysis, research, design (in the
>meaning of 'creation').
>
>That meaning of usability and usability engineering has stayed with me
>all this years. It was even always supported from the outside: for
>example the user-centered design process from UPA includes all types
>of activities. Only probably a year before now I have at first time
>met across the opinion that "usability" means roughly only "usability
>testing". Usually this opinion have people who came into the field of
>"developing the interaction" from adjacent fields, i.e. design (in the
>meaning of art, visual design, product design). I'm not going to
>advocate either for "usability" or for "design". I believe we are all
>speaking about the same discipline, only its name and its content were
>not completely established yet.
>
>Andrei Sedelnikov
>http://usabilist.de/en

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