links for 20 August 2008 – Iteration Zero


Here’s a little presentation I wanted to belatedly share with you. It’s a talk I gave at the kind-of recent GUADEC conference. I’m not sure how much of it you can make out from the slides alone, but it’s a fairly entry level talk about the difference between Usability and User Experience, and the importance of identifying and understanding your end users, and also doing some observational research.

It was a great opportunity to talk to a bunch of developers and also to meet some of the people from the UX community working with GNOME and other free software projects.

I got some really great questions after the presentation, including:
a) how is user experience for GNOME (and similar) different from UX in large corporate environments? (My answer was that there were probably more similarities than differences, especially with regards to a widely dispersed audience and design/development team and that there was probably a lot to be gained from looking to companies like Google, Yahoo, EBay etc for ideas and inspiration)

b) how do you design a good user experience when your users are ‘everybody’ – from complete novice to highly experienced user, in different types of organisations and all over the world? (That question prompted this recent rant about the myth of the general public)

c) how do you enable the entire organisation/community to benefit from the UX work and observational research that different parts of the organisation are doing? (That question has gotten me thinking about ‘libraries’ of research and findings, imagining that you could share research like you share code… but some how making sure that it was being used correctly, which would mostly mean, in the appropriate context – I’ll write more about this soon, but I’d be interested to hear any thoughts/experiences you have with this!)

Free software projects are always looking for UX people to help out, so if you have some time or want to build up some experience, it might well be worth looking into!

Thanks for having me GUADEC :)

Help shape a new application and earn £40 for just 30 mins of your time

We’re at the early stages of developing an interesting new application and have a few ideas that we’d like some feedback on.

If you have a spare half hour on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday next week (4,5,6 August) and are in or near central London and you’re interested in helping out, read on!

We’re looking for a wide range of people but you need to either be

  1. currently using or planning to use internet on your mobile phone in the next couple of months
  2. fairly social (have some friends, go out and meet said friends fairly regularly).
  3. a little web savvy, but *not* someone who twitters or updates their Facebook status more than once a day. (If you’ve heard of Cuil already, for example, you’re probably not quite the audience, but you probably know someone who is – get them to contact me!)
  4. not working in the internet, mobile/telecoms or travel industries

As ever, you (or the person you dob in) will be rewarded for your efforts to the tune of £40 – for just 30 mins!

See –  we really value your opinion!

email me: [email protected]
or pass this on to likely suspects!

thank you!

The general public myth (or, the whole world is not your user)

This feels like pretty basic stuff to me, but it’s incredibly important not to overlook the basics, so let’s talk about it.

I was prompted to think about this again when taking questions after talking at the GUADEC conference in Istanbul recently and someone asked about how you design a good experience when you’re designing for everyone – technical experts and newbies, people in countries around the world.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the answer is quite simple.

Just don’t. Don’t design for everyone. It’s impossible.

All you end up doing is designing something that makes everyone unhappy. Who needs that.

But why does this happen? I call it the myth of the general public.

So, there is this idea of the general public … but have you ever met *anyone* who considers themselves to be ‘the general public’? I don’t think I have.

This became particularly clear to me on a research project I was working on a few months ago where every single person I met told me about how unique their particular area of interest was, and how my client, a museum, only catered to ‘the general public’. The people I talked with complained that museums have ‘dumbed down’ so much because they are talking to ‘the general public’ and said that this made museums less useful for them to interact with, because of their specific interest and expertise.

This is what happens when we design for everyone – we ‘dumb things down’ to the point that they become useless or inefficient for most people. How does this happen? Well, because although everyone in the world might want to use your product or your website, they’ll want to use it in a very particular way.

In order to design your product well for them, you need to understand how they’ll use it and design to support that behaviour.

But wait! That means that all of a sudden the whole world is not my target audience! Horror!

Never fear, all is not lost. Despite the fact that you’ve design the experience beautifully for the specific audience (or audiences, you are allowed more than one!) that you have selected and understand well, other users will insist on using your product/service/website even if they are not in your target audience. In fact, the glowing recommendations that your audiences will provide will encourage others to use your service.

Yes, some audiences may have to work a little harder than others, but some audiences are better equipped to work harder. And at least the audience you *really* care about is being well looked after.

Josh Porter in his recently published book ‘designing for the social web’ (which I recommend that you read because if you don’t know everything that’s in his book, you should) makes this argument a lot more succintly than I have here so I’m going to quote you a slab:

Get as Specific As You Can

Question: Who is the audience you’re targeting?

Wrong Answer: Well, anyone really. Our application has a very broad set of uses.

Right Answer: People who do this very specific activity…

This is a discussion I had with an entrepreneur who was starting a new software company. He was targeting  his software at what he called ‘the general public’. And on the surface of things, this makes sense. He didn’t want to limit his softward by saying that it was for a particular audience, as that would make it harder to swim with the current if that strategy didn’t work out. (Investors like flexibility too). For whatever reason, his software ended up being for all audiences.

In practice, however, software built for the masses rarely works. Even in the cases where software has gone to the masses, it started off in a nice and then grew outward, as people realized that it doesn’t have to be used in any one way.

Targeting a broad audience is precisely the wrong approach. The more specific you can get about how to use your application, the more your software will resonate with your potential audience., the social bookmarking tool, is about as broad a tool as you can get. Anybody who wants to bookmark web pages can use it. That is to say that their potential audience is everyone on the web.

Byut doesn’t fall into the trap of designing for everyone. They do a good job providing specific use cases.

And, if your software is flexible and can be used by many different types of audiences, choose a few profitable/big ones and be specific about each. The more specific you get, the better.

See. What Josh said. The general public is a myth. Don’t design for it.