Is user research a band-aid for "the listening deficit"?

1 Jan 2008 - 6:30pm
6 years ago
26 replies
936 reads
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

I've been reading Allison Fine's wonderful book, Momentum: Igniting Social
Change in the Connected
Age<http://www.amazon.com/Momentum-Igniting-Social-Change-Connected/dp/0787984442/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1199227694&sr=8-1>
.

In one section, Fine talks about "the listening deficit" that cripples most
organizations, positing that corporations and NPOs alike tend to continually
push their own agendas and hope their customers will simply remain quiet and
keep giving them money.

When they later realize this isn't working, for whatever reason, they hire
outsiders to figure out who their customers really are and what they need.
Instead of listening to their customers, donors, volunteers, employees,
fans, and so on in the first place, they pay *someone else* to do something
they could and should have done themselves.
After pondering this rant for a moment, I thought about the User Experience
profession.

Does the user research aspect of your work exist only because companies are
incapable of listening to and holding conversations with their own customers
in the first place, or does your reseach provide value beyond what internal
staff could have learned on their own had they been listening?

Is user research simply a band-aid for the listening deficit, or does it
bring something more powerful to the table?

-r-

Comments

1 Jan 2008 - 7:12pm
Dave Malouf
2005

Robert, if you are an outtie, then I would say, you are the band-aid.
If you are an innie where you mandate is to be the ears of the
organization to end users and customers (not always the same thing)
then no, that is not the case at all. It is a formalization of the
listening process, and further implemented methods for turning
listening and IMHO more importantly observing into real data for
analysis to turn into ideas.

AND!!!! at that even with all the listening in the world, you can
still get it wrong b/c the analysis is so difficult to do, and then
converting the analysis into valuable design is another point of
translation in the matrix.

There are so many parts of the puzzle and to point just at this one
thing seems, well a bit myopic to me.

But to answer you directly ... If you are a consultant doing UX, you
are a band-aid. If you are an innie, you are the ears of your
organization. In either case, both roles are valuable and shouldn't
be demonized. A band-aid could save your life, ya know?

-- dave

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=24074

2 Jan 2008 - 10:11am
Kevin Silver1
2006

Robert,

I definitely think it brings something more to the table. I recently
had an engagement with a company with a company that had a pretty
good pulse on their customers, in fact the information I garnished
from doing stakeholder interviews was invaluable and matched most of
what I found when I did some customer interviews and observation.
There was some difference, though and maybe this had to do with my
line of questioning and approach. This was a web a redesign project,
and during research I was really interested in the customers decision
making process in purchasing the companies product. There were a few
really good things that came out of the research that I don't think I
would have thought of or found without the research. It's all about
modeling context of the design situation and by doing this we're able
to elicit insights that might not be otherwise available.

So, yes research can bring value and I don't think it's a band-aid in
most of my engagements; the internal staff typically listen to their
customers, but they don't have the knowledge to appropriately model
context for an interactive project. Most companies I consult with
don't have internal design teams. And I would also say that I don't
always do research, due to the typical constraints of budget and in
that case we are heavily relying on the company to model context.

Kevin

On Jan 1, 2008, at 4:30 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> I've been reading Allison Fine's wonderful book, Momentum: Igniting
> Social
> Change in the Connected
> Age<http://www.amazon.com/Momentum-Igniting-Social-Change-Connected/
> dp/0787984442/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1199227694&sr=8-1>
> .
>
> In one section, Fine talks about "the listening deficit" that
> cripples most
> organizations, positing that corporations and NPOs alike tend to
> continually
> push their own agendas and hope their customers will simply remain
> quiet and
> keep giving them money.
>
> When they later realize this isn't working, for whatever reason,
> they hire
> outsiders to figure out who their customers really are and what
> they need.
> Instead of listening to their customers, donors, volunteers,
> employees,
> fans, and so on in the first place, they pay *someone else* to do
> something
> they could and should have done themselves.
> After pondering this rant for a moment, I thought about the User
> Experience
> profession.
>
> Does the user research aspect of your work exist only because
> companies are
> incapable of listening to and holding conversations with their own
> customers
> in the first place, or does your reseach provide value beyond what
> internal
> staff could have learned on their own had they been listening?
>
> Is user research simply a band-aid for the listening deficit, or
> does it
> bring something more powerful to the table?
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

Kevin Silver
Clearwired Web Services

10899 Montgomery, Suite C
Albuquerque, NM 87109

office: 505.217.3505
toll-free: 866.430.2832
fax: 505.217.3506

e: kevin at clearwired.com
w: www.clearwired.com

6 Jan 2008 - 2:28am
dszuc
2005

Hi Robert:

"When they later realize this isn't working, for whatever reason,
they hire outsiders to figure out who their customers really are and
what they need. Instead of listening to their customers, donors,
volunteers, employees, fans, and so on in the first place, they pay
*someone else* to do something they could and should have done
themselves."

Suggest "some" reasons why companies are getting outside help:

1. They are losing touch with their customers and want to get another
fresh perspective (what are our customers saying today? Does it match
with what we thought last year, a few years back? etc)

2. Don't have the resources to run the user research themselves

3. Don't have the understanding of the methods on ways to listen more
effectively to their customers (beyond "Focus Groups") - so feed them
with some ideas on how we can help

4. Have an opinion (having listened to their customers) but may be
too close to it, so want to validate with an external piece of user
research

5. Believe in it (listening to customers), but need help to sell it
internally to mgt to have more opportunities ahead to listen more to
their customers (both with the help of outsiders and empowering them
to do it internally)

6. Don't want to listen to their customers at all (or only hear what
they want to will push personal internal agendas). So Yup -
"...continually push their own agendas and hope their customers will
simply remain quiet and keep giving them money."

7. Have enough money to burn to release products that do not reflect
the needs of the customer and this is seen as ok in that company or
product group (eek!)

8. The business knows their customers so well (they are not able to
be impartial)(also see point 4)

Others?

"... something they could and should have done themselves." - Yup.
Advocate of passing the knowledge to clients so they can do this
themselves; so we can help them, if possible, with other pieces to
enable us to - "... bring something more powerful to the table" both
big and small :) Perhaps see something they are not able to see as
they are too close to their own business.

rgds,

Daniel Szuc
Principal Usability Consultant
www.apogeehk.com
T: +852 2581 2166
F: +852 2833 2961
"Usability in Asia"

The Usability Kit - www.theusabilitykit.com

On 02/01/2008, at 7:30 AM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> I've been reading Allison Fine's wonderful book, Momentum: Igniting
> Social
> Change in the Connected
> Age<http://www.amazon.com/Momentum-Igniting-Social-Change-Connected/
> dp/0787984442/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1199227694&sr=8-1>
> .
>
> In one section, Fine talks about "the listening deficit" that
> cripples most
> organizations, positing that corporations and NPOs alike tend to
> continually
> push their own agendas and hope their customers will simply remain
> quiet and
> keep giving them money.
>
> When they later realize this isn't working, for whatever reason,
> they hire
> outsiders to figure out who their customers really are and what
> they need.
> Instead of listening to their customers, donors, volunteers,
> employees,
> fans, and so on in the first place, they pay *someone else* to do
> something
> they could and should have done themselves.
> After pondering this rant for a moment, I thought about the User
> Experience
> profession.
>
> Does the user research aspect of your work exist only because
> companies are
> incapable of listening to and holding conversations with their own
> customers
> in the first place, or does your reseach provide value beyond what
> internal
> staff could have learned on their own had they been listening?
>
> Is user research simply a band-aid for the listening deficit, or
> does it
> bring something more powerful to the table?
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

7 Jan 2008 - 8:28am
Stew Dean
2007

Hi Robert,

Is user research making up for the lack of a company listening?

I can say that often parts of most company are listening - namely
those that deal directly with customers, employees as you mention.. I
have found that a short cut to exstensive user research can often be
sit down with a representative for the company - someone who deals
with customers on a regular basis. It's their job to understand the
customer / user and often you can get rich uncluttered information
from them. Wether this makes it's way to the 'decision' makers is a
different aspect. Most large companies are dysfunctional in terms of
information flow between departments and it can be the people making
decisions have the worst infomration to go on, so look for it outside
when often it's not even a matter of talking to the customer but
talking to fellow employees.

The customer facing folks in an organisation are often great for
defining your example users (I'm not going to use the term personas as
I try not to use them) and can lead to a path of least resistance in
talking to people outside of the company.

BUT even if the company has done a great job of listening there is
always information a user experience person would need that contextual
enquiry can find that the customer / user may not have thought of
mentioning because it lies outside the perceived day to day
interaction with the company/organisation.

I have worked with companies who do listen (a large energy company in
the UK for example was a pleasure to work with as they where very
customer aware for example). So the 'not listening' isnt a rule I'd
say, just a symptom of some organisations who are doing business for
business sake (too many processes, meetings, layers of management and
in ability to get even basic customer behavour information).

Cheers

Stewart Dean

On 01/01/2008, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:
> I've been reading Allison Fine's wonderful book, Momentum: Igniting Social
> Change in the Connected
> Age<http://www.amazon.com/Momentum-Igniting-Social-Change-Connected/dp/0787984442/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1199227694&sr=8-1>
> .
>
> In one section, Fine talks about "the listening deficit" that cripples most
> organizations, positing that corporations and NPOs alike tend to continually
> push their own agendas and hope their customers will simply remain quiet and
> keep giving them money.
>
> When they later realize this isn't working, for whatever reason, they hire
> outsiders to figure out who their customers really are and what they need.
> Instead of listening to their customers, donors, volunteers, employees,
> fans, and so on in the first place, they pay *someone else* to do something
> they could and should have done themselves.
> After pondering this rant for a moment, I thought about the User Experience
> profession.
>
> Does the user research aspect of your work exist only because companies are
> incapable of listening to and holding conversations with their own customers
> in the first place, or does your reseach provide value beyond what internal
> staff could have learned on their own had they been listening?
>
> Is user research simply a band-aid for the listening deficit, or does it
> bring something more powerful to the table?
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
Stewart Dean

7 Jan 2008 - 12:49pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> I can say that often parts of most company are listening - namely
> those that deal directly with customers, employees as you mention..

I'd agree with this, but I also see that often, the parts of a company that
are listening have no direct line of communication to the ones that need the
info. For example, a call center staff will have tons of useful insights,
but there's no link between the call center and the design team.

Engineering departments are not often set up to listen. They're set up to
build, build, build. This disconnect is where the problem starts, I think.

-r-

7 Jan 2008 - 1:13pm
White, Jeff
2007

On Jan 7, 2008 12:49 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:

> I'd agree with this, but I also see that often, the parts of a company that
> are listening have no direct line of communication to the ones that need the
> info. For example, a call center staff will have tons of useful insights,
> but there's no link between the call center and the design team.
>

Exactly right. And that's part of where we (if UCD or a similar
research approach is being used) add value, we can help organizations
leverage the stuff they've already got, but didn't know they had, or
just didn't know how to use it.

I also agree with an earlier comment in the thread that it's not just
about listening. It's about the way you do it. Being skilled in
interview techniques, observation, etc is another area where we
provide a huge amount of value.

Jeff

7 Jan 2008 - 2:50pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jan 7, 2008, at 12:49 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> Engineering departments are not often set up to listen. They're set
> up to
> build, build, build. This disconnect is where the problem starts, I
> think.

In our research, a lot of it plays into the organizational structure.

Often the management tree of the organization where engineering
(information sink) joins up with customer support (information
source) is at a senior executive level, sometimes even the CEO. It's
not the job of those executives to communicate what the two groups
are doing. Why should engineering invest more money to produce a
better product if only support sees the cost reduction benefit?

We've found the best organizations put fiscal rewards and bonuses
into the support/engineering communication path. For example, for
many years, select teams at (believe it or not) Microsoft had a bonus
for the developers/engineers who kept support minimized for their
products. In essence, money saved from reduced support costs was put
into bonuses for the design & development team.

If you want to fix the problem, follow the money.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

7 Jan 2008 - 3:51pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> Often the management tree of the organization where engineering
> (information sink) joins up with customer support (information source) is at
> a senior executive level, sometimes even the CEO. It's not the job of those
> executives to communicate what the two groups are doing.
>

Exactly what I've seen. There may be conversations over drinks between
senior-level managers, but there's not often a path for engineers and
designers to frequently and effectively communicate with support.

For example, for many years, select teams at (believe it or not) Microsoft
> had a bonus for the developers/engineers who kept support minimized for
> their products. In essence, money saved from reduced support costs was put
> into bonuses for the design & development team.
>

Nice. If my previous employers had done this, I'd have been a richer man
while working there. (My horn goes toot.)

-r-

7 Jan 2008 - 4:15pm
Joseph Selbie
2007

Jared wrote:

"In our research, a lot of it plays into the organizational structure."

"If you want to fix the problem, follow the money."

I couldn't agree more.

Most of the companies my company has worked for have a built in conflict
between the engineers/developers and the designers and business leads.
Typically the business leads are insisting on bringing us in to do a
thorough user centered design -- but the budget for the development of the
application comes out of IT. Plus the IT group is rewarded for speed and
economical reuse of code -- both of which tend to fight against new design.

Joseph Selbie
Founder, CEO Tristream
Web Application Design
http://www.tristream.com

7 Jan 2008 - 1:12pm
Pankaj Chawla
2008

I beg to differ. Engineering departments depend on the customer facing
departments (marketing, product engineering etc) for the customer
perspective but its the customer facing groups that generally cut
corners and instead of going out and doing a full user research they
mostly give back their own perceptions partially validated by limited
customer interaction. Of course engineering departments add their own
perspective to the already ill baked data and so what comes out
finally is miles away from what customer would have asked for if
somebody had cared enough to ask in detail.

Cheers
Pankaj

On 1/7/08, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:
> > I can say that often parts of most company are listening - namely
> > those that deal directly with customers, employees as you mention..
>
>
> I'd agree with this, but I also see that often, the parts of a company that
> are listening have no direct line of communication to the ones that need the
> info. For example, a call center staff will have tons of useful insights,
> but there's no link between the call center and the design team.
>
> Engineering departments are not often set up to listen. They're set up to
> build, build, build. This disconnect is where the problem starts, I think.
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

7 Jan 2008 - 8:16pm
White, Jeff
2007

That's a good point Pankaj. However, if marketing was conducting poor
user research (imagine that!) that's just yet another reason why
experienced practitioners of UCD could provide value to the
organization.

Jeff

On Jan 7, 2008 1:12 PM, Pankaj Chawla <pankaj013 at gmail.com> wrote:
> I beg to differ. Engineering departments depend on the customer facing
> departments (marketing, product engineering etc) for the customer
> perspective but its the customer facing groups that generally cut
> corners and instead of going out and doing a full user research they
> mostly give back their own perceptions partially validated by limited
> customer interaction. Of course engineering departments add their own
> perspective to the already ill baked data and so what comes out
> finally is miles away from what customer would have asked for if
> somebody had cared enough to ask in detail.
>
> Cheers
> Pankaj
>
>
>
>
> On 1/7/08, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:
> > > I can say that often parts of most company are listening - namely
> > > those that deal directly with customers, employees as you mention..
> >
> >
> > I'd agree with this, but I also see that often, the parts of a company that
> > are listening have no direct line of communication to the ones that need the
> > info. For example, a call center staff will have tons of useful insights,
> > but there's no link between the call center and the design team.
> >
> > Engineering departments are not often set up to listen. They're set up to
> > build, build, build. This disconnect is where the problem starts, I think.
> >
> > -r-
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> > February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> > Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
> >
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> > To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> > Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> > List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> > List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
> >
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

8 Jan 2008 - 6:58am
Adrian Howard
2005

On 7 Jan 2008, at 17:49, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:
[snip]
> Engineering departments are not often set up to listen. They're set
> up to
> build, build, build. This disconnect is where the problem starts, I
> think.
[snip]

I think it's worse than that in many situations. Developers get
actively punished when they go listen to folk and go "off track", or
point out issues that may effect the end-user experience. It's viewed
as "making more work" rather than "making things better".

Personally I think this is the cause of the evil developer-hates-the-
user stereotype in almost all cases. Not a lot due to the way that
developers-are. A lot to do with the environment the developers work in.

One of the many reasons I like more agile development environments
that emphasise communication across all the normal silos.

Cheers,

Adrian

8 Jan 2008 - 7:13am
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jan 8, 2008, at 6:58 AM, Adrian Howard wrote:

> On 7 Jan 2008, at 17:49, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:
> [snip]
>> Engineering departments are not often set up to listen. They're set
>> up to
>> build, build, build. This disconnect is where the problem starts, I
>> think.
> [snip]
>
> I think it's worse than that in many situations. Developers get
> actively punished when they go listen to folk and go "off track", or
> point out issues that may effect the end-user experience. It's viewed
> as "making more work" rather than "making things better".
>
> Personally I think this is the cause of the evil developer-hates-the-
> user stereotype in almost all cases. Not a lot due to the way that
> developers-are. A lot to do with the environment the developers
> work in.
>
> One of the many reasons I like more agile development environments
> that emphasise communication across all the normal silos.

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

In our research, it's all about the measures and rewards. What gets
measured, gets done. What gets rewarded, gets done well.

We regularly come across teams where the culture (and it *is* a
cultural issue) rewards great design above all else. In those
cultures, you regularly see a focus on team problem solving and great
organization-wide communication.

We also come across teams where the culture rewards some other
factor, such as time-to-market or reduced costs. In those cases,
those factors will trump intra-organization communication of design-
related issues, except when those issues will drive the reward factor.

Want something to happen: build a culture that rewards it.

Agile, by itself, isn't more likely to reward good design. Like any
methodology suite, it can be bent to fit the existing culture's
reward policies. As many teams are now discovering, in the wrong
cultures, Agile is just as toxic and waterfall.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

8 Jan 2008 - 7:51am
Adrian Howard
2005

On 8 Jan 2008, at 12:13, Jared M. Spool wrote:
[snip]
> I've said it before and I'll say it again:
>
> In our research, it's all about the measures and rewards. What gets
> measured, gets done. What gets rewarded, gets done well.
[snip]
> Want something to happen: build a culture that rewards it.

Absolutely.

> Agile, by itself, isn't more likely to reward good design. Like any
> methodology suite, it can be bent to fit the existing culture's
> reward policies. As many teams are now discovering, in the wrong
> cultures, Agile is just as toxic and waterfall.

I certainly don't think agile is a panacea. Having an agile process
doesn't automatically mean that you get products with a wonderful
user experience.

I've have found that they do a better job of delivering the product
you asked for in a timely manner. So at least the company finds out
that they asked for a bad product more quickly. A not insignificant
advantage on occasion :-)

The reason I like working on agile teams is that, in my experience
anyway, is that they're _much_ more open to the cultural change that
you're talking about. They value communication, cross-disciplinary
knowledge, and building successful (rather than "to spec") products.
What they lack are the IxD/UX/IA/usability/whatever personnel/outlook/
skills.

When I'm doing UX work in a waterfall-type environment I feel like I
have to fight to find a place in that hierarchy. Inevitably you're
making some group's job "harder" because they are only interested in
their narrow slice of the bigger picture.

I just don't find those sorts of problems with agile groups. They
already have a "listening" culture. I just need to find a way to
speak in a language they will understand.

Cheers,

Adrian

8 Jan 2008 - 11:57am
Michael Micheletti
2006

On Jan 8, 2008 4:13 AM, Jared M. Spool <jspool at uie.com> wrote:

>
> In our research, it's all about the measures and rewards. What gets
> measured, gets done. What gets rewarded, gets done well.
>
>
Jared, thanks for sharing this. It knit a few tangled threads together for
me. Up on on my whiteboard now as the day's quote. All the best,

Michael Micheletti

8 Jan 2008 - 9:42am
ELISABETH HUBERT
2007

Adrian I agree with you preference of working with an agile teams.
They are MUCH more open to my input and requirements, and not only
are they more open to listening, but more open to doing since they
aren't necessarily time boxed. Unfortunately I work in a company
where agile and waterfall approaches get mixed on the same projects
and this as one can imagine makes things frustrating.
I do agree with Jared that if rewarded for quality the quality will
increase. In my experience with agile teams this has been the case.
We have demos where my group comments on the quality of the product
and the developers want to hear good things about the UI and how
closely it matches the requirements, because they get a nod towards
being proactive. Just some thoughts.

Thanks!

Lis
http://www.elisabethhubert.com

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=24074

8 Jan 2008 - 12:44pm
Pankaj Chawla
2008

Since my original post didnt make it to the discussion board (I being
a newbie to this group I didnt know the rules of posting messages:-(
), reposting it after making amends to it for all to read and comment.
I hope it makes it to the board this time :-)

Thanks
Pankaj

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Pankaj Chawla <pankaj013 at gmail.com>
Date: Jan 8, 2008 11:05 AM
Subject: RE: [IxDA Discuss] Is user research a band-aid for "the
listening deficit"?
To: Jeff White <jwhite31 at gmail.com>
Cc: "Robert Hoekman, Jr." <robert at rhjr.net>, IxDA <discuss at ixda.org>

>That's a good point Pankaj. However, if marketing was conducting poor user
>research (imagine that!) that's just yet another reason why experienced
>practitioners of UCD could provide value to the organization.
>
>Jeff

Hi Jeff,

I dont think its hard to imagine that poor user research is happening
on daily basis ;-). After all, all bad products cannot be a by-product
of bad engineering only. The bigger point I was trying to make is what
I call the "perspective creep". A process is as good as the people who
follow it and most of the times I have seen people at all levels adding
their own perspective and bias to the data that came in and as it keeps
trickling down the chain, chances are it is miles away from what the users
asked for. So I dont think its a "listening problem" - I think most of
the times a good communication is happening - the problem really is the
difference between what came from the user and what finally got into the
ears of the engineer who is implementing the piece and since there is no
feedback loop from engineer to the user, there is no way to validate as to
what came in from the user in the first place. So in effect the engineer
is not implementing what the user asked for but what the user research team
thought the user asked for - there is a subtle difference and thats the
difference between successful and failed products. This of course goes on
to reinforce your point that we need objective and experienced pratitioners
who can interpret the raw data without a bias and provide a mirror image of
the user.

Cheers
Pankaj

8 Jan 2008 - 1:38pm
Nick Quagliara
2007

I think that it is also important to note that users cannot always
clearly express what their needs are. There has to be a level of
interpretation from what the users says and what they mean.

I can also say that simply implementing what users ask for can lead
you down a feature-driven design path.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=24074

8 Jan 2008 - 1:36pm
Nick Quagliara
2007

I think that it is also important to note that users cannot always
clearly express what their needs are. There has to be a level of
interpretation from what the users says and what they mean.

I can also say that simply implementing what users ask for can lead
you down a feature-driven design path.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=24074

8 Jan 2008 - 2:47pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> I think that it is also important to note that users cannot always
> clearly express what their needs are. There has to be a level of
> interpretation from what the users says and what they mean.
>
> I can also say that simply implementing what users ask for can lead
> you down a feature-driven design path.

Well, obviously. :) I'm not suggesting that companies should listen better
and simply do what users tell them, only that companies could listen better
and perhaps, with a little sound judgment and analysis, avoid the need to
hire outsiders to figure out their audiences for them.

-r-

8 Jan 2008 - 11:22pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jan 8, 2008, at 2:47 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> Well, obviously. :) I'm not suggesting that companies should listen
> better
> and simply do what users tell them, only that companies could
> listen better
> and perhaps, with a little sound judgment and analysis, avoid the
> need to
> hire outsiders to figure out their audiences for them.

I tell our clients that hiring someone to do their user research for
them is like hiring someone to take their vacation for them. It gets
the job done, but something gets lost in the translation.

Along the same lines, hiring someone to do their design for them
probably has similar results.

:)

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

9 Jan 2008 - 12:32am
White, Jeff
2007

Just want to point out that working with outside consultants can be a
great way to strategically institutionalize the importance of getting
to know the audience in the first place and introducing new design
techniques into a corporate culture.

At a previous position, a team I was part of spent literally years
trying to change the culture to be more human centered in its'
approach to building websites and apps. They never seemed to really
believe us, but as soon as we found a champion to support us and give
us actual money to redesign their website, we brought in two outside
consulting firms - one that specialized in research and another that
specialized in design.

The project was a huge success and the company has since changed their
ways. Frankly that entire process of evangelizing & establishing UCD
into the culture was one of the most challenging and rewarding things
I've ever done in my career. It simply could not have happened without
the use of outside consultants.

Jeff

On Jan 8, 2008 11:22 PM, Jared M. Spool <jspool at uie.com> wrote:
>
> On Jan 8, 2008, at 2:47 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:
>
> > Well, obviously. :) I'm not suggesting that companies should listen
> > better
> > and simply do what users tell them, only that companies could
> > listen better
> > and perhaps, with a little sound judgment and analysis, avoid the
> > need to
> > hire outsiders to figure out their audiences for them.
>
> I tell our clients that hiring someone to do their user research for
> them is like hiring someone to take their vacation for them. It gets
> the job done, but something gets lost in the translation.
>
> Along the same lines, hiring someone to do their design for them
> probably has similar results.
>
> :)
>
> Jared
>
> Jared M. Spool
> User Interface Engineering
> 510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
> e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
> http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

9 Jan 2008 - 7:31am
White, Jeff
2007

It was probably a mix of both. The team at that point was myself and
two other peers. We had about 6 months to redesign a site that had
grown over the years to around 10,000 pages of horridly outdated
content. It was a mess to say the least. While doing the redesign, we
had to maintain normal operations for that site, manage other projects
- internal business apps and marketing projects, and handle the
communications plan & training for the new site. The training involved
50-70 content contributors. So, one part was simply a resource issue.
3 guys couldn't handle all that and do the redesign all at the same
time.

The second factor, and I really think this was a huge part of it, was
we simply did not have the credibility built across the organization
to change the culture this drastically. Obviously, our champion had
faith and trusted us, but not all of the stakeholders did. The two
consulting firms were so well pedigreed that credibility was no longer
an issue, and a lot of the internal politics at play went away
quickly. There was simply no arguing with these guys! :-) Also, my
team made it part of the selection process that we be highly involved
with the research - we went and did fieldwork with the research firm
and were equally involved with the design firm as well. During this
time we constantly communicated back to internal stakeholders and
established ourselves as equals with the consultants that they already
highly trusted. By the time the project was finished, our credibility
had gone way up. It went up even further after the site was live for a
few months and the customer feedback and conversion numbers, as well
as employee feedback started coming in. It set us up perfectly to be
the ambassadors of change that you mention, and we were there to stay
and apply the same process to other projects.

Jeff

On Jan 9, 2008 1:14 AM, Pankaj Chawla <pankaj013 at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 1/9/08, Jeff White <jwhite31 at gmail.com> wrote:
> >They never seemed to really
> > believe us, but as soon as we found a champion to support us and give
> > us actual money to redesign their website, we brought in two outside
> > consulting firms - one that specialized in research and another that
> > specialized in design.
>
> Was the success because you finally found a champion who had the
> budget and power to drive the organization towards UCD or was it the
> external consultants? I would tend to believe that with such a
> champion even you and your team internally would have made the
> difference. Most such culture changing success stories have a seed in
> a champion at the highest level. Once there is a champion it just is a
> matter of time and finding a team either internally or externally who
> can implement the vision. In you case it happened to be an external
> team but I have seen so many cases where it happened with internal
> teams also. The added advantage with internal teams is they are there
> to stay and will become the change ambassadors for times to come.
>
> Thanks
> Pankaj
>

9 Jan 2008 - 1:14am
Pankaj Chawla
2008

On 1/9/08, Jeff White <jwhite31 at gmail.com> wrote:
>They never seemed to really
> believe us, but as soon as we found a champion to support us and give
> us actual money to redesign their website, we brought in two outside
> consulting firms - one that specialized in research and another that
> specialized in design.

Was the success because you finally found a champion who had the
budget and power to drive the organization towards UCD or was it the
external consultants? I would tend to believe that with such a
champion even you and your team internally would have made the
difference. Most such culture changing success stories have a seed in
a champion at the highest level. Once there is a champion it just is a
matter of time and finding a team either internally or externally who
can implement the vision. In you case it happened to be an external
team but I have seen so many cases where it happened with internal
teams also. The added advantage with internal teams is they are there
to stay and will become the change ambassadors for times to come.

Thanks
Pankaj

9 Jan 2008 - 3:57pm
Matthew Nolker
2008

We recently did a project in the health care field. The overall goal
was to improve the usability of a data collection app that was
supposed to accurately record every step of a detailed, half-hour
long medical procedure. The problem was that for some reason, there
was a unusually high rate of error in the data being entered into the
app by the care giver.

Now, these same users had been complaining to customer support and
account teams -- your normal user listening channels -- about many
aspects of the interface. But fixing those never seemed to fix the
inaccuracy problem. Wasn't until we conducted ethnographic research
that we discovered that the users were hiding a very important issue.
They actually weren't entering data at the time it was collected --
they were waiting for a couple hours, then entering data from (a
sometimes faulty) memory.

They did this for a variety of reasons relating to the interaction
design of the application, and fixing those issues did end up solving
the problem.

But because the users were ashamed to tell us how they were actually
interacting with the app in the field (I think it was a violation of
FDA rules, to some degree, and they felt bad about taking shortcuts),
our client's user listening channels weren't able to provide the
critical insight needed to fix the problem.

I suspect that as long as people are subject to cognitive bias, user
listening alone won't be able to diagnose all usability problems.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=24074

10 Jan 2008 - 10:37am
Gloria Petron
2007

That's huge. Isn't that one of the core concepts of interaction design:
recognizing the difference between what people think they want
versus what they actually do need?

Syndicate content Get the feed