There are no CliffsNotes for Good Design

Comparatively speaking, user-centered design may still be considered a “new” way of doing things. Some would argue it started during World War II, when it was observed that the interaction with some of the technical systems were not easy to use. However, the fact is software and even computer technology haven’t been a core part of most people’s day to day working lives until the last few decades.

With the onslaught of computers, software and the internet, wonderful ideas of considering the end user of these systems came to bear. Some people came to realize that if we were asking people to use computers day in and day out, maybe it would make sense to ensure they could actually use them. When technology promised efficiencies, companies demanded to know how that could be proven. As mentioned in Bethany’s blog article, the Mind’s Why, Jakob Nielsen and Don Norman helped further explain the principles of user-centered design and expose the tenants of usability.  Perhaps they made it too easy.

You know CliffsNotes, right?  Those handy dandy yellow booklets that provided you with enough information to pass the test, but not make you an expert on the topic?  As much as I respect the fact that Jakob Nielsen created a “top 10 list” of usability heuristics, easy for us to digest and rattle off, in some cases it has given enough information to too many people and made them dangerous. People have begun to assume if they know the cliff notes, they are they expert.  The next time I hear a that a user should not have to click more than 3 times to get to a piece of information, I may literally scream.

Good design is as much art and science which, in my opinion, means that designers are doing the work of 2 professionals. A standard degree for user experience professionals is often one in Information Sciences. Anyone who scans that curriculum sees a mix of business, computer science and design courses. It is an insult these professionals to think that someone who has memorized a list of heuristics can replace them.  If design were that simple, than every application you use, every web site you would visit would be exactly the same. But, they are not. Designers understand that while all banking applications may be serving a similar audience with similar needs in similar contexts, those same users want something completely different when it comes to buying clothing online or planning a vacation.

So, while I support the education of the masses on why user-centered design and usability are important, please leave the actual work to those who are qualified.

Just because you know that the basement goes in the ground and the roof goes on top doesn’t make you a builder or an architect, right?



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2 Responses to “There are no CliffsNotes for Good Design”

  1. bethany lankin →
    June 7, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    In all fairness to poor Jakob — to whom I gave a rather hard time in the post you mention — he did not mention the three-click rule in his top ten list. Nielsen and friends weren’t writing rules, only guidelines to be interpreted by other professionals in the usability field. For example, many lawyers may try similar cases, but each in his own way. Lawyers and Judges may interpret the law differently under different circumstances. The same defense that frees a thief may not free a murderer.

    The much challenged and finally, mostly discredited three-click rule was, I believe, created by Jeffrey Zeldman and mentioned in his book, Taking Your Talent to the Web. For what it’s worth, Zeldman has an MA in fiction writing and a BA in English. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, his wiki profile states that his title is, “King of Web Standards.” Kings aren’t as impressive as they used to be. I too, have done my share of wishful screaming.

    I believe this supports your original argument, that professionals should handle what “rules”, if any, should be created in regards to the user experience. I just wanted to set the record straight about Jakob.

    Thank you.

  2. Karol Czyrka →
    June 7, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    I may have been a little sloppy in my writing, as I didn’t mean to attribute the 3-click rule to Jakob. The point I was trying to make is what you said – Jakob’s guidelines were meant to be digested by design professionals. Instead, they are being memorized by non-professionals who then claim, because they memorized them, know all they need about design. And then we get the 3-click rule. Thanks for helping me clarify my point.