Designing for people: Interaction design and personas04/19/2013
While we've been launching websites using responsive website design (RWD) technology for more than a year, the rate of change in the past 60 days seems beyond super-fast. The tech community continues to show and share its learnings, openly and freely, and our team is both contributing and taking. And I've been learning at an incredible rate, as a non-tech (though I do a little HTML coding), moving from a beginner to an intermediate on several things (keep reading, you'll see what I mean).
Because we are a small business, we don't always make time to tell our story, especially where we have expertise. I find myself on a Friday morning, focused on my own learning and reflecting on our most recent launch where we redesigned a site for a client's customers and prospects. I've been re-rereading the book: The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper. Besides a catchy book title, it's chalked full of great info and perspective to "walk in the shoes" of digital users.
My favorite chapter is Chapter 11: designing for people. Simple, right? Not always. There are at least three "types" that work on a website: marketer (who often doubles as a writer), creative, and coder. Each expert approaches interactive design, defined very broadly here, from a different perspective in my experience at Dirigo. We bring our brilliant expertise and brilliant blind spots too.
Cooper's graph shows the way that software is written by programmers. As you can see, interactives develop for experts (themselves), while intermediates get little attention; beginners get zip. Think older generation (parents or grandparents ... and you wonder why so many Silent Generation and Baby Boomers don't get "it").
Next is the view from marketers (and others inside of an organization, whether product folks, management, etc.). Attention is over-compensated on beginners (themselves), which is oftentimes off-putting to intermediates and experts. Having worked nearly 20 years in corporate America, I saw this happen over and over again—and I'm sure I did this a number of times too. If one doesn't understand the software, product, or service, it's very easy to develop for the beginner.
Cooper created a fantastic visual called paradoxical curves that points out the rift in the middle between techies and marketing geeks: the intermediates (and the largest group under the bell-shaped curve). Going back to your college statistics class, remember the normal bell-shaped curve and two standard deviations (ala 95% of customers and prospects ... those that buy your widget). We gotta' reach these folks, where they are in the middle.
How, though, to create a product or service that meets all needs? Tools, aids, short cuts ... but they need to fit the user type. So does an expert need an online help FAQ type tool? NO! Experts need quick aids or what Cooper calls wizards to get them along. The beginner uses FAQs or other online help tools to learn. One lightbulb moment for me when I first read Cooper's book a few years ago and found again on page 186: "... beginners quickly desire to discard these embarrassing reminders of their ignorance." How true! Who wants to look uneducated about a topic? When a beginner has advanced along the learning continuum, what does s/he become? An intermediate.
Which are you? No matter which type your are, make sure that your development team is made up of all three types. Doing so will ensure that you're building an inclusive UX—one that will ensure maximum ROI.