Users, just watch them use things ...

I take my time catching up on blog postings. This, of course, works like an inverse of Zeno's paradox; i.e., I'm getting further behind -- the distance is increasing.

But being behind also let's me pull together a summary of several different posts from different sources and different times. This one is about users, the methods and tools to look at users and use, and a story of what happens when users, use, and everyday practice don't come first.

Nick Finck, in Digital Web Magazine recently posted a useful pointer to articles about use cases, scenarios, and personas, and their usefulness and use. John Rhodes has a generative article on the value of usability and how to best incorporate it into development. I agree with John, connecting designers and developers directly with users is the most cost effective way of learning how to incorporate usability into products and services. For me, the direct observations and interactions, no matter how brief, help designers and developers learn what is useful. Usability is important, but usefulness comes first. It's gratifying to see the users and their work being appreciated.

But what can happen when users, use, usefulness, and usability aren't taken up early and often? The 1 February 2005 issue of The Risks Digest has a wonderful story about the installation of a grocery store robot scanner. Sometimes it is difficult for designers to get access to users. But a grocery store system is one place where the designers actually are users.

I recently took the opportunity to use a new automated system at my local US post office to check on the cost to mail an relatively full envelope. I made it through the menus, but it was interesting trying to guess what response was expected. I only had to start over once. (And let's not even get into the design of the buttons and screens.) These kiosk-like interfaces remind me of poorly constructed multiple choice test questions. I'm often left trying to figure out what response will be considered correct, not what I think is the correct response to the question or prompt. I hope that all the use cases for these devices contain a scenario for going back to the beginning. I know I'll be using it.