There’s been quite a bit of talk, on and off, around developing a library of patterns that interface designers could use that would mean that technology would become a whole lot more consistent and usable. So I was interested to discover that XPDesign, the methodology that PTG Global have been talking up for a while now, is essentially a part of this whole discussion.
The Certified Usable Guarantee: We guarantee that, on average, 90% of users can complete 90% of tasks with minimal assistance, within a reasonable time, without error, and with at least 80% satisfaction (based on a random sample of at least 300 end users using a Certified Usable™ technology product).
Craig Errey of PTG presented some of the fundamentals of XPDesign at the NSW CHISIG gathering last night. At the very least he should be congratulated for stimulating probably one of the most engaging debates around HCI methods that I’ve been a part of for quite a while.
The last one was probably back at OZCHI conference, where another PTG representative presented their work on the Citibank Mobile Banking interface and surprised many of us by stating that PTG didn’t need to iterate in their design process because they *knew* what worked and what didn’t. (Obviously, given that mobile banking is a pretty new application on a reasonably new device with many special complexities, many in the audience found this difficult to believe!)
Craig started his talk by asserting that ‘nothing particularly interesting has happened in HCI for the last 10-15yrs’. Big call. I guess that depends a lot on what you consider interesting, he then went on to challenge people to answer two questions: what is usability? and how do you make something usable?
This is all a big lead up to his statement that a user centred approach is not the best approach and that iteration is for losers. He, and PTG, are of the belief that there should be ‘one best way’ to design, and that variance between the way that people design things is not beneficial. Rather than interface design being an art, he asserts that it is much more a science.
“Humans are essentially the same in how they do things”,
James Breeze, PTG Global
Craig argued that current methodologies focus on the users too much, and that consequently, the business objectives are often not given the level of attention they require. Similarly that a user centred approach tends to focus on the surface issues, and not the fundamentals of design.
One of the foundations of XPDesign is that usability needs to be able to be measurable in a quantifiable sense. For example, being able to demonstrate that people can perform a task in half the time that they were able to before. Showing a reduction in error rates was another example.
He asserted that PTG has been able to develop a library of interaction patterns that could be applied by someone with 3-6 months of training in the XPDesign methodology. Using this methodololgy, any trained practitioner (because, we probably shouldn’t call them designers) would come up with the exact same output as their similarly trained peers, and this output would be the single best user interface design.
“Motivations are irrelevant… they’re there to do a job”,
Craig Errey, PTG Global
As you can imagine. There was plenty of discussion.
It was around this time that the qualifiers emerged. XPDesign, you see, is *only* intended to be applied to purely transactional interfaces. Preferably business interfaces, in particular eGovernment. Certainly not “marketing websites”.
(It wasn’t entirely clear whether it was intended to apply to social/community applications online or to information sites… but I left thinking probably not. Craig Errey wasn’t particularly familiar with Flickr, despite it being his stock example of web 2.0 / social applications. I don’t think PTG had given this much thought. No money in it!).
The other important context is the business driver from which XPDesign emerged, which is that PTG’s clients didn’t have the budget to develop multiple interface designs then test the best one. They could only afford to have PTG get it right the first time. And from that business demand, XPDesign was born.
Now, it would have been nice if Craig had made these qualifiers clear at the beginning of his talk… or even in the blurb that was sent out to promote the meeting. They’re certainly marketing XPDesign as a method that can ensure *any* interface is *most* usable, and that’s not something that this methodology, or PTG, is capable of. As many people commented throughout the evening, in some cases, people’s emotions and motivations *do* count. And oftentimes, speed doesn’t matter.
But, enough about XPDesign specifically (except, I do have to make a quick note about the irony of naming a non-iterative methodology with the term XP, which as an agile development methodology is hugely supportive of the iterative process). What of using patterns for design?
Yahoo are probably the best known participants in the land-of-pattern at the moment. If you haven’t already, check out their Design Pattern Library that they have generously made public. They also provide a great explanation of patterns, and the lifecycle of a pattern. The lifecycle in particular, makes for interesting reading.
There are many other groups developing and sharing patterns. The Wikipedia entry lists some.
For me, I think the idea of patterns are great. Why re-invent the wheel every time we come to design a site/form/interface? It doesn’t make sense. Its not efficient, and it doesn’t result in consistent outputs, thereby negatively affecting usability.
It doesn’t mean that as interface designers we become automatons. There will always be skill involved in placing these patterns together, and most importantly, deciding *which* patterns to use. And there will always be opportunities for patterns to be iterated… I find it hard to believe that we ever know for certain that we’ve found the one best way.
The problem with patterns are twofold.
Firstly: How do we get to the point where there is one pattern library? Or, at least, one that has significant enough uptake as to be useful for designers and users? Who can or will take responsibility for this?
PTG have been selling their XPDesign solution. They claim that they’re going to make it publicly available for free (under a creative commons licence). This is good. But still someone needs to step up to the plate and guide the development and marketing of this pattern to designers and clients.
Who could that be? Is there/could their be sufficient promotional benefit for a corporate to take this on? Would it be possible to garner enough energy, resolve, commitment and agreement from a not-for-profit association to achieve this task?
Secondly: How do we make sure that people learn to apply the pattern’s appropriately?
This, assuming the pattern library exists, is a much easier question to answer, but I mention it here because the pattern library is not an end in itself. Just as Blogger doesn’t make everyone a good blogger… and Dreamweaver doesn’t make everyone a great website developer… the pattern library will not make everyone a good interface designer.
OK. That’s already a *much* too long blog post.
I can’t believe you made it this far.
You might as well leave me a comment and tell me what you think about this pattern business, seeing as you’re here :)