Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Tech experts and users

The more specialized a person is at one thing, the less she can see into other fields. Experts opinion must be valued but it tends to happen that it is hard to get them to value other opinions as well.

After all, they are the experts, how dare you even to suggest they might be wrong. It is equally challenging to explain that they might not be wrong at all, it is just that other people see problems differently and all of these views, including theirs are valid.

There are couple of scenarios where I noticed the "they think differently, therefore they are wrong and stupid" mindset coming from real specialists in their respective fields. And as a UX Designer I shook my head in all of those situations.

Usability for newcomers

One of our most important tools was getting major overhaul. I was not part of the project as the developers decided to do UX on their own. Later on they were forced by management to get UX designer involved.

It was very strange situation since there was not much for me to do. Tool was already on the way to be done so I had nothing to design. On the other hand it was not done yet and there were no proper sketches or wireframes so I could not give any proper suggestion.

It all spiraled towards conversation with lead developer who assured me that they have taken all the steps to assure that the tool is tailored to users needs. It initially sounded very positive.

Since the tool was very different from existing one I was wondering if users coming from existing tool and new users will both have the same ease of working with the tool. What I got as response was the look of disgust and the reply: "Whether the users can use the tool is not my problem."

He was right. It was not his problem. He was lead developer – technical expert. He focused on the technology. He wanted the code to be good.

This tool was truly tailored to the needs of the users. But it was tailored by the developers. And the more you work in IT the more you realize that developers think differently. Totally differently.

It the eyes of the development team, the tool might have been the marvelously perfect solution to all the problems. But it failed to take the users view into consideration. Will they be able to use it? Will they think the same way as the developers who made it were?

I am not going to deny the expertise of the lead developer when it came to leading other developers, making though technical decisions or coding, but when it came to users, the approach was lacking.

Software framework

Another example was a team of gurus working on a framework that very junior developers were supposed to be using to build software. These junior developers were in matter of fact so junior they rarely needed any previous experience or good knowledge of programming languages.

These juniors were quitting job left and right, being replaced immediately by new people who were educated into the role in extremely short amount of time. And they were all using this framework.

For such a specific group of newbie developers, it was really hard work to create framework they could understand and use. And of course the framework had to be technically optimal as well so that the software using it would not suffer.

After some time the gurus found a bug in their code and decided to fix it. The interesting thing was that huge number of the juniors were accidentally using the bug because they thought it is the correct way to use the framework.

It made sense to them when they looked at the documentation. The correct way to use the framework was slightly inconsistent with similar functions but the bugged way was always following the same logic.

With their limited knowledge, the juniors were analogically trying to use plain common sense – at least from their point of view – and it worked. Well, up until the gurus fixed the bug.

The software started having issues due to the bug fix. And the situation quickly got to stalemate. The juniors were not aware that they were doing it the wrong way since it made enough sense. And the gurus blamed the juniors for not understanding their framework enough.

Once again a similar situation where the experts knew what they were doing and they were doing good job. It is just that some of the users failed to grasp it the same way as they did. They did not think the same way. They had different mindset.

How we think

The UX field is important because normally we are rarely the users of the product we create. And therefore we have no idea how the users think. What motivates them, what they expect, what previous experiences they have, what they can and cannot do – how do they think? UX is there to answer these.

Even when we are the users of our own products it is important to realize that we are the ones who made it. We wrote it from scratch. Of course we understand it. We spend hours and hours making it. We made it in our own image.

Expert of each field view the problem little bit differently and it is by nature that we have problems interpreting other fields. "It takes one to know one". It takes one expert to recognize the other. But how can expert recognize a user and help her?

Cpt. Picard from Star Trek once said: "It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness, that is life." It is not weakness that we all experience the world differently. In matter of fact it can be a strength, but only as long as we can still communicate and learn from one another.

Don't be that guy who knows everything and all those who do not are stupid. Don't think that being expert in one field automatically qualifies you in everything. Share your expertise and learn to understand your users or get someone who can help you with that.

Tools are for the users

Whether it was the major tool or the framework, both of them were meant to be used by the users. Therefore it was important for the users to know how to use them.

You can call them stupid, you can call them irrational, you can hate them, but at the end of the day, it is those people who use your products. And it is them who you make your products for.

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