Re: Interface Design - who does it?

Subject: Re: Interface Design - who does it?
From: Eric Haddock <eric -at- ENGAGENET -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 4 Sep 1996 10:16:04 -0500

The less the person knows about the subject, the better a tester the
person is. I don't know if this is scientifically true but it's something
I've always believed. If you can pull someone off the street and have them
read your manual or use your product and have them understand what's going
on, then hot diggity dog.
There are novice experts too. Not everyone who will be using all our
products at the level we expect them to be. We have a customer for example
who knows how to program but doesn't know how to use a computer--if you can
imagine that. Because of that, we have to make totally sure that a
particular application is *completely easy* to use. So easy that someone who
doesn't know how to minimize a window in Windows knows how to use it. (It's
an important customer so we can't let it go--not that we should anyway.)

If the interface is truly user-friendly, than anyone should be able to
walk up and start using the product. Since I'm not nearly as knowledgable as
the engineers here so I usually use the software from a user perspective to
try and find what all can be made more clear in the interface. When I find
something I don't understand, then I explain what it is and offer a few
What this does is make sure that if you're looking for ease of use and if
you get a novice using it and they're able to do everything, then the
interface is generally good.

This doesn't apply to your situation in particular because you guys are a
bit hard core on the matter. But, I would argue against the highly technical
person. He would be the person to _avoid_ putting in that position.

* The more technical you are, the less likely you're able to compensate for
less knowledgeable users and less knowledgeable users are the ones you have
to design around. They dictate the design. *

I would choose my interface designer using the following criteria. The
person who scores best gets it:

1. Knowledge of user level
To say this is key is an understatement. You _have_ to know the level of
people you're designing for. You don't have to make the interface
super-simple if you can be sure that 99% of your users are at your own

Who would score high? Ideally--someone who goes out on site and/or does
customer service of some for or other.

2. Knowledge of how the product will actually be used, as opposed to its
intended design
This may or may not be applicable, but if your product does more than
one thing then the ID should know what the product is actually going to be
used the most for in the field by actual people day to day.

3. Peer review of sample
It may not work with the politics of your situation, but if possible I
would suggest that everyone who wants to design the interface make a
small sample interface on paper (just hand drawings would be OK
practically) and everyone can look it over.

But here's the important part--judge not on the interface itself but on
the _reasons_ for the design. No one person is going to design the
interface as-is 100%. It's the reason the person gives for their design
when the product comes up for review that will dictate what parts of the
design make it to the final product. If they have good reasons based on
their knowledge of #1 and 2, then fabulous! :) This may also show the
person's grasp of the overall project.

/`-_ Eric Haddock ------
{ }/ Technical writer
\ | Engage Networks, Inc. ---
\__*| Milwaukee, WI

"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words."
-- Mark Twain

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