Blog -> Oskar

User testing as a superb conversation killer

It's been a few years since I was on a rant about anything in particular, mostly due to a lack of self-confidence rather than a lack of things to rant about. But this place is stripped of all social interaction - there's no commenting system in place and no integration with social-anything - so I'm free to express myself without open repercussions. Radical concept, right?

So, every time I get into a conversation with a fellow software engineer and I mention user testing - it all goes straight to No-where Land (or This Land, if you're a fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly). At first, most fellow conversation partners shines up like a Christian child on Christmas Eve:

- Awesome! I've been thinking that we need some new icons, could you design them?

It just so happens that the first Ok/Cancel strip captured this reaction almost 10 years ago. Please pay it a visit before continuing, it's worth it.

Done? Great, now that I've broken the fourth weblog wall - no I don't want to redesign the dated icon set, that's a fruitless and generally under-payed task at best. And at worst, without proper testing, it could upset a great deal of people, especially end-users!

I'm interested in testing the product with actual end-users and semi-formally observe their behavior while solving actual domain-specific tasks! This in an attempt to find and implement easy fixes of fatal usability flaws we're unaware of. But alas, any attempt at steering the conversation in the right way, is generally met with:

- Oh, you mean like the application workflow? That's ok, the application is already perfect on that front - I designed the dialogs myself! But this splash screen is a bit ugly, perhaps you could....

Alright, at this stage I'm completely lost. If I'm very, very, very lucky and mention one-way mirrors and observation rooms with smoking hippies I might get half a sentence of interest in return, but even that is quickly reversed into continued talk about the stupid icon set and mostly washed aside as a curiosity. I'm not sure exactly what I'm doing wrong here but there sure is something going on that I'm not fully aware of. Perhaps my social interaction skills are simply lacking? Or is formal interaction design and user testing too exotic for this little town?

In the end, non-technical bosses and project leads tend to respond a lot better than developers and other nerds to this topic - I'm guessing I should continue discussing optimization problems with my fellow nerds instead and leave the user testing for another day and another type of beer. Rocket surgery made easy? It's not that easy, but I sure hope it will be, some sunny day.

by Oskar Duveborn - 2 revisions
Published 7/6/2011, updated 7/6/2011