Monthly Archives: February 2010

Your choice of words matters

Yet another reason why designers and business folk talk past each other: people who are purposefully misleading to get attention.

I came to this presentation from Google on their Quality Score measure because someone referred to it by saying “Quality Score is a measure of user experience”. It obviously peaked my interest because it is precisely the qualitative characteristic of user experience that makes it hard to measure.

When you get to slide 4 you realize that Google knows better and defines Quality Score as “an automated measure of how relevant each of your keywords is to your ad text and to a user’s search query.”

It has nothing to do with measuring users’ experiences with anything whatsoever. I realize it sounds naive to be cranky about attention-grabbing people but it baffles me that people do this: misuse the notion of user experience to mean anything at all that they want. It is such a coward move. Be bold, say what you want to say!

More than that, I worry that people just have no clue what they are talking about. Because it that is the case, it is even more worrisome. If people engaged at this level of discussion (i.e.: what measures to use) don’t understand a basic thing such as what user experience means (at its most basic what PEOPLE experience when they INTERACT with something), then we’re all very far from being able to have progress in advancing the conversation about measuring success in the context of user experience.

Quant before Qual makes no sense. But it does.

As I continue to explore how designers can make better informed decisions by leveraging information, the issue with number aversion is still #1. I talked about this already in my Interaction 10 presentation, but I’ve been digging deeper and have some other thoughts (check my presentation for some base assumptions).

If we agree that quantifiable data, specifically the ever popular web analytics, provide you with rich detail to tell you WHAT is happening, it is comforting to realize that it is the type of data gathering that we already do – design research – that provides the qualitative color to answer WHY said things are happening.

What I am finding, however, is that it is more valuable to START with the quantitative work and get to the WHATs and ask WHYs based on those findings, rather than trying to figure out WHYs in exploratory mode (even if the WHAT’s are going to emerge at one point or another in this quest).

My point is that it’s not sustainable as an approach. It’s inneficient to start digging deeper to answer the WHY questions if you don’t have a baseline of WHATs identified.

The problem is that it is not intuitive for designers to start where they are uncomfortable. We are super comfortable with qualitative approaches – they are our go-to tools because that’s what makes sense for design research. However, quantitative research instruments really help narrow stuff down, but they do require you to understand those pesky numbers in order to a) dig in and get to concrete answers and b) understand what it’s saying so you can ask “why”.

In short, WHATs before WHYs are more efficient than WHYs before WHATs, but that requires designers to start with unfamiliar tools to then apply familiar tools. If it was the other way around I think it would be much easier for designers to bridge both approaches and come out the other end with more useful insights.

In other words, since we don’t particularly feel an attraction to numbers (to put it lightly), why would we start there? It’s such a leap from how we think about problems that it is counter intuitive. I don’t believe designers reject the notion of starting with Quant approaches (WHATS) to expand with Qual approaches (WHYs), but it’s inherently counter-intuitive to think that way.

How can I help designers do this when it goes against their nature? That’s what I’m working on right now. More on this later.

Interaction 10

This past week I had the pleasure to present at Interaction 10 in Savannah, Ga. This was my first Interaction conference and I absolutely loved it. The city, the venue, the crowd and the content were all fantastic. Even the food was the best conference food I’ve ever had. The IXDA should be really proud for making such an excellent event happen.

I was excited to go but apprehensive because I was meant to present on a topic that is new to me and I had not had an opportunity to have other conversations about it across the community. Also, after seeing the first two days of excellent content one is bound to feel nervous about their own stuff! It ended up being great – I talked about key performance indicators and measuring success in the context of user experience (slides forthcoming – I’m writing notes because they are not good enough on their own as they were only triggers for my talking points).

While preparing for this talk I expected to have few people show up, precisely because of the reason why I am investigating this topic in the first place: designers don’t like numbers. I didn’t think the topic would be attractive at all (thus my “out there” title and description). The feedback I received and the types of questions asked during the event were really interesting and helped validate some suspicions about how our community sees metrics and numbers.

My main goal was to put something out there about KPIs and measures of success for UX so that we could start a conversation and really explore this topic. I have grown tired of how this topic ALWAYS ends up going into a “what is the ROI” conversation and never advances our ability to express what success means to us. Measuring success to show our value to others is a secondary goal, measuring success for ourselves seems far more valuable to me, which is why I am going to continue to explore this and try to focus the conversation on that goal.

The main theme I saw emerge from the feedback I received is that people felt validated; that I brought up the questions they all have but had not seen articulated in the community — which is precisely what I felt when I started looking into this 4 months ago. We can’t really learn and expand our understanding as a community if we don’t figure out what questions we’re trying to answer. And that is why, in my opinion, we always fall back on the pointless ROI calculation discussions.

I am very grateful for all who came, participated and found me later to discuss the topic. I am very excited about seeing what’s next.