One of the most enlightening experiences I've had in my 5+ years at Yahoo was sitting in on some usability tests. Being on the "watching" side of the one way glass is fun. But it can be particularly frustrating when the application or service users are attempting to use is your own.
Back in 2000 or 2001, I watched a few such tests on specific areas of the Yahoo! Finance site, which I worked on at the time. I walked away from those tests thinking differently about how we build stuff for "normal people" and have been doing so ever since.
I highly recommend doing this if you're involved in building software. You may well be very surprised by what you learn.
I was reminded of this by reading the story of Mac Word 6.0. Under the subheading Learning the Meaning of “Mac-Like” the following appears:
Moreover, while people complained about the performance, the biggest complaint we kept hearing about Mac Word 6.0 was that it wasn’t “Mac-like.” So, we spent a lot of time drilling down into what people meant when they said it wasn’t “Mac-like.” We did focus groups. Some of us hung out in various Usenet newsgroups. We talked to product reviewers. We talked to friends who used the product. It turns out that “Mac-like” meant Mac Word 5.0.
We spent so much time, and put so much effort into, solving all the technical problems of Mac Word 6.0 that we failed to make the UI of Mac Word 6.0 behave like Mac Word 5.0.
I remember the trainsition from Mac Word 5.1 to 6.0. It was, indeed, a painful one for most Mac users. This is worth thinking about every time someone suggests radical UI changes.
Posted by jzawodn at June 22, 2005 04:10 PM