The Root of the Problem

I was going to start out by addressing what I see as the biggest cause of frustration in the course of creating useful, usable, and beautiful work. However, I too have learned from the Zuckerberg fiasco, so I would like to ask you what you think is the most significant root of the problem that prevents you from creating the best solution. Leave your thoughts as comments. After a few days, I’ll see how your experiences compare with mine and post some thoughts.

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5 comments on “The Root of the Problem”

  1. Scott Morgan Reply

    The largest, most prevalent difficulty that I face from a project management standpoint is ensuring the proper amount of time, buy-in and appreciation for the effort that proper usability and focus group work requires. Given the very tight deadlines and cost concerns, the presentation layer is almost always the first thing that suffers.

    Not only is it less and less frequent to find dedicated and sufficiently expert design resources in the project teams I have worked with, the large majority of the core developers don’t want to take any particular ownership / investment in the detail-oriented work that is really required for a first rate front-end; they just want to crank out the code and make sure it functions properly.

    That said, I have been working in companies where presentation layer development is far from a core competency so my experience will vary dramatically from those issues faced by people working directly in the design field.

  2. Drew Simchik Reply

    Proper user research takes a lot of time. Proper usability testing (during the design process and not just at the end) takes a lot of time, even if you do it on the cheap. There’s often great pressure, from the market as well as from the organization, to skip all of that, work with the knowledge the organization already believes it has, and go straight to design.

    As usability professionals of course we’re supposed to tsk scornfully at this attitude, but I actually have a lot of sympathy for it. The truth is it’s definitely possible to overthink and overstudy a problem. Sometimes you have to go with your best instincts as a designer, without the crutch of exhaustive research and verification.

    Ultimately, though, skimping on research seems to waste time later when you have to defend your choices and referee arguments between executives, engineers, and marketing. With no evidence, everyone argues their prejudices and there’s no way to settle debates.

    Of course, this may not be my most significant obstacle. My most significant obstacle might just be the limits of my own lateral thinking, or my astuteness in picking my battles, or my daring, or any number of personal frontiers. But the pace of the tech industry and the time for research there isn’t is probably my biggest external obstacle.

  3. Liz Reply

    Too many people want to give their opinions about design and expect you to take their advice. Opinions and interest are good, BUT need to be backed up by experience and data.

    Too little is made of usability testing with representative users. There are plenty of “quickie” testing techniques out there that allow you to gather information fast and adjust accordingly.

  4. brian oneill Reply

    Copying comment from ‘Welcome’ post (ed.):

    well, given that most of my consulting these days is with startups, i find that discussing user-centered design within agile environments (that are lower-case agile) is difficult. it’s also hard to practice it in environments that are either in beta or don’t exist at all yet (pre-launch) – or when businesses lack firm measurable goals from the start.

    Most early startups are bound to change missions from the get-go and I find expert-opinions and group-think trumps all else in those cases, and I roll with it. But maybe that is just fine – do others disagree? Is software easy enough to change now that the practice of getting something out quick and early (rinse, repeat) is better than study up front when you don’t have the time and $ to spend on a long-term user-research program?

    I’ve played the “rich kids” UCD game — the big banks and brokerages that have the $$ to spend on full-blown UCD front ot back — and the poor kids game, the startups who have a few smart people willing to try something useful/cool/fun but low $ to “study.” More and more, I find the former is “reality” – I know all about small-scale user testing and talking to customers etc – but sometimes clients don’t even know who their customers are and they aren’t out to pay you to find out!!! 😉

    saludos and gracias for the opinions!

    Brian/Mr. Ho

  5. Abby Reply

    There are a host of factors that drive you slowly down the path to not so good design solutions. But, since you asked about the root of the problem — I will go with fear. More and more these days I see things not being considered because of fear. This fear seems to come in a variety of tasty flavors:

    1) Fear of the unknown – not wanting to be first, or take a risk. (I also call this one “Waiting for Google”)

    2) Fear of failure – deciding to avoid an approach due to the failure of others in the past on similar or parallel paths

    3) Fear of change (this is the one I personally see most often, it can also be the nastiest flavor of fear) – “This is how we have always done x” “we have never done y before” “I don’t know how so and so would feel about y” “we tried x a few years back..”

    4) Fear thy client (this one is my personal pet peeve) – not bringing good ideas to a client because of their anticipated response to said concept.

    Great conversation Jeremy – thanks for the outlet.

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