Don Norman’s jnd.org / Why doing user observations first is wrong

Thanks to elearning post for bringing this article to me attention.

I’m a fan of Don Norman, in general. I think that he’s really got some good ideas about design work and he’s been expousing those ideas for quite a while now (there’s something to be said of longevity in our field).

I also think that this article has some solid assertions. Usability testing should catch design flaws (he saids “bugs”, but I think you have to look beyond that somewhat). Usability testing shouldn’t be considered part of the design process. It’s quality assurance (QA).

However, if I understand his stance correctly, I don’t agree that design is best left to design teams with subject matter experts. A good needs analysis coupled with a representative sample of users (hopefully this is what he means by “subject matter experts”) doesn’t quite fulfill the design task. Design and design in use are two very different things.

What we learn from analyses and subject matter experts is a reflection of the work as it is. Or a reflection of the work as carried out with current tools. A new tool (design) can change the very work that we tried so hard to “discover”.

Therefore, if he is saying that design teams can bring a design to implementation without seeing how it works in context…he’s dead wrong.

That’s why I indicate that it’s not just bugs that usability testing finds, it’s also design flaws.

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