user activities (was: Re: Textbook writing: don't just blame the authors!)

Subject: user activities (was: Re: Textbook writing: don't just blame the authors!)
From: "Chuck Martin" <twriter -at- sonic -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2001 16:22:52 -0800

"Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA> wrote in message news:86637 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> "Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
> what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
> idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
> sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer
While I think of Mr. Norman as one of the Usabillity Gods, I have to
disagree a smidge (although I like the sentiment in general) because I
believe Alan Cooper's approach is more in touch with users: Cooper suggests
that users don't "want" to accomplish activities (or tasks), but, rather, to
reach goals. The activities (tasks) are the means taken to reach those
goals. So the point is not to focus on the users' activities, but their
goals, and how they can best reach those goals.

Understanding the users' goals are the key to good design, and can be the
key also in deciding how to best document the too-often poor design. (Mr.
Norman put it far too politely when he described it as "idiosyncratic and

"[Programmers] cannot successfully be asked to design for users
because...inevitably, they will make judgments based on the
difficulty of coding and not on the user's real needs."
- Alan Cooper
"About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design"

Chuck Martin
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net

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