October 23, 2006

Ethnography - A Top Odd Job

CareerBuilder.com excerpts Nancy Rica Schiff's books, Odd Jobs, and its sequel Odder Jobs, for their list of Top 20 Odd Jobs. Number 19 is "Ethnographer".

This doesn't bode well for those of us promoting early, qualitative, "soft" field research as a primer for product innovation. Pitch staffing an ethnographer on a UX project and a client is likely to say, "Oh, that's one of those 'odd jobs', like Wax Figure Maker (number 3), or "Dog Food Tester" (number 16)." Why should I pay for that on this project?

The answer, of course, is that ethnographic research is one of the few ways you can really find out what customers want. Better yet, you can find out what they need, even if they can't express what they want yet. Participants in a focus group won't be able to tell you what they need if they don't know it themselves.

John Rheinfrank, one of the smartest guys I ever was lucky enough to work with, once told us the story of how his team did the field studies that led to the disposable camera. Insights into why people took photos, and the circustances and situations surrounding the photo-taking event, led to huge business opportunities.

But fortunately, I can call myself an "information architect", which sounds much more smooooooth than one of the "top 20 odd jobs".

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May 25, 2005

A/B Testing = OFAT?

Just received a job req asking for someone who knows A/B Testing. I guess as a methodology guy, I should've covered this in the Usability Methods Toolbox, but I had never thought of it as a usability technique.

Back when I was a hard-core Industrial Engineer, trying to improve the quality of copper plating on printed circuit boards (and ruining several good pairs of pants in the plating room from all those evil chemicals), we used all sorts of Design of Experiments (DoE) techniques like this. We did a lot of Deming/Juran/Ishikawa/Taguchi techniques--I would carry the "Memory Jogger" around in my back pocket sometimes (shirt pocket was occupied by the pocket protector).

But no one I've talked to in a long time has mentioned using such techniques for Website analysis.

Why not?

That was one of my premises for my Masters Project: that usability evaluation methods originated, and should still leverage, the testing methodologies of other fields. It seems that the "usability profession" has turned inward too much--I don't know if it's elitism or "Not Invented Here" syndrome or what.

Maybe it's the same issue that was discussed at BayCHI recently--all these diverse groups of professionals laying claim to the UX mantle: UPA, CHI, STC, ASTC, IA, etc.

So that'll be one of the to-do's for whenever I get around to refreshing the Toolbox: adding more methodologies from other fields and discussing their relevance to usability evaluation.

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January 27, 2005

Separated at Birth: Jakob and Jared

Just got out of a meeting with Jared Spool. Is it just me or are the usability gurus in the world starting to look alike?

Photo of Jared Spool, UIE.comPhoto of Jakob Nielsen, UseIt.com

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January 04, 2005

Computers for Toddlers

Got into a discussion re. getting kids onto computers at an early age. I always figured that I'd get my kid onto the computer from day 1, so she'd be comfortable using them and would grow up with computer skills.

But now I'm not so sure.

Most of the applications I've seen for kids haven't been that compelling. They're basically edutainment, but could the time spent playing the game (and thus inferring new knowledge or skills) be spent learning that new knowledge in the "real" world? Which is better?

Then there's the notion that kids should learn computer skills, like the motor skills required to manipulate a mouse, or the spatial dynamics of the CRT screen. But I'm beginning to rethink that idea. In the next few years, will WIMP interfaces still rule or will we see new advances in UI tech? Maybe I should spend more time teaching my kid proper diction and vocabulary so she'll be ready for voice input--while the other kids in kindergarten will be tethered to their PCs, she'll be commanding hers while wheeling around the schoolyard on her tricycle. Hah!

As with any parental guidance issue, it's hard to know how much is good and how much more is bad. It would really suck to have carpal tunnel before you hit middle school.

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November 24, 2003

Cheaper by the Dozen

I just learned about the remake of "Cheaper by the Dozen", the film version of the book of the same name depicting Frank and Lillian Gilbreath raising 12 kids.

"Cheaper" was one of the reasons I got into Industrial Engineering--I read the book as a kid and found the practicality of methods improvement almost as intriguing as the book's humor.

The Gilbreath's analysis and improvement of work processes helped foster the human factors and usability disciplines we have today. Breaking down a process into "fundamental components of work" was their game, a precursor to the task analysis we do now. Their branding of fundamental hand and arm motions as "therbligs" (a jumbled "Gilbreath") were the usability design patterns of their era.

And this was all during the 1920s, too.

Sadly, it seems that the new movie isn't about the Gilbreaths at all--they changed the story where the father character, played by Steve Martin, is now a college football coach.

Official movie site: http://www.cheaperbythedozenmovie.com

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