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May 30, 2005

User experience and the development team

Matt Goddard, the man Don Norman turns to instead of Jakob Nielsen when he needs his Web site usability improving, expands on Alan Cooper's adage that "user interface is not just skin deep."

The problem with Matt's remarks is that he is dealing with API usability within the development team, and this is neither necessary nor sufficient to guarantee a good user experience for people outside the development team. API usability is a good thing, of course, and who could argue with guidelines like "Your objects should be named clearly" -- but the goals and concerns of the developers are different from those of the end users. It's very important to developers that your lookup table class is called Hashtable or Dictionary rather than GemmasCoolClass, but it makes no difference to the user experience whatsoever (except of course in terms of delayed delivery and slow maintenance).

Where Matt may have a point is in the idea of treating API usability as a training ground for real user experience. If developers can learn to plan their APIs around their usability to the rest of the team, that may train them to plan their user-affecting designs around their usability to real people. On the other hand, it may just train them to expose the usual implementation concepts with blindingly precise technical jargon instead of the usual fuzzy sugar coating. ("Well, maybe they shouldn't employ nurses who don't know what a red-black tree is!")

API design does have a part to play in the usability process, but it is as part of the top-down design of the system, for example the design of domain objects to support the desired user experience -- a design that can then feed down into the design of implementation objects and data stores. What Matt is writing about is the simple fundamental of keeping the development team productive and sane, a concern which is actually pretty much internal to the development team.

Heh. Actually, I recognise this whole symptom of starting to care about the development team's sanity and health rather than regarding them as a necessary but expendable labour force to be subjugated to your will no matter what the cost. Watch out, Matt. I think you may be going native.

May 30, 2005 in Usability | Permalink

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Comments

The view I've presented in my essay was simplistic, I agree whole heartedly with your concerns that a) good object model design doesn't directly relate to the usability of the project and b) that a "user" aware development team might still produce unusable software.

I do believe that you have to have strong team leadership and UI design skills in place to make good design happen, I do believe that by getting the team aware of who the user is an how they relate to their role will prompt believe the team to start asking the right questions earlier on in the right places in the project.

Posted by: Matt Goddard at Jun 8, 2005 9:15:16 PM

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