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Users are Brilliant

Users are brilliant. The research and design team's job is to find out what the user expects of the system and design a solution to meet expectations.

Article Jul 17, 2020

Dave Anderson

Recently I had the opportunity to observe a usability test, and it completely changed my view of users. Carrie, one of our Human Factors Engineers, interviewed a potential user of a web app we are designing. After introducing herself and explaining the system, Carrie said, “We aren’t testing you. We are testing the design. You cannot ask any wrong questions. If you have a question it is because the design of the system is not clear.”

A little later during the interview, the participant asked, “Am I getting everything here?” Carrie affirmed him again, “We aren’t testing you. You are testing the design.”

Software product designers seldom understand the real needs and frustrations of their users. Often engineers like to develop software for its own sake, and tend to forget that users have a goal or purpose for using the product. Generally, the person only uses the product because it makes accomplishing a task slightly easier. When the user has to work at understanding the technology, the train of thought is interrupted, leading to a temporarily thwarted goal and frustration.

Three important principles should be kept in mind when designing a software product:

  • The user is always right. If someone has a problem using the system, it is the system’s problem, not the user’s problem.
  • The user should see what he or she expects to see. Throughout the usability tests, Carrie repeatedly asked the users what they would expect to see when a button was clicked. She asked this before the next screen was presented to verify that the system was correct.
  • The user should be able to customize the product to be most efficient. Another question that Carrie repeatedly asked was “Would you use that feature?” If the participant said no, she would then ask if the placement of the feature distracted them from their primary task. If they said yes, she noted that it should be able to be turned on or off in the preference settings.

When we finished, I mentioned to Carrie that she was very patient during the interviews, and seemed genuinely interested in the feedback she received. She responded, “Users are brilliant. Our job is to find out what the user expects of the system and then design a solution to meet expectations.”

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