Thursday, February 13, 2014

Temple of User Research

I read about Temple Grandin several years ago in An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sax and have been hesitant ever since to watch the recent movie about her. I'm actually not sure where the hesitation is founded, but I decided to watch the movie last night and realized that Temple was an amazing user researcher, embodying the users (cattle).

Sax was most interested in the fact that Temple recognized her own Autism and was able to overcome it with that recognition. That, alone, is an unusual triumph.  But, the movie also showed her crawling around in the cattle yard, thinking like cattle. She watched them intently to understand how they felt and how they moved. She completely understood her user. Subsequently, she built cattle yards that were cattle-friendly and by pleasing the cattle, she saved unnecessary cost and strife for the owners. There were less cattle deaths and they were able to use fewer resources. This pitch was her best tool for convincing stoic owners of cattle yards that they need to change. It's all about the bottom line. Her understanding of her stakeholders was her biggest asset.

This is such a direct analogy to user experience design and software products. Executives fear change because of the bottom line. The loss of clients is a valid but sometimes overblown fear. They worry that users will overwhelm the help lines. UX designers need to understand the users and the stakeholders extremely well. Hopefully, there is someone on the team or in the area that can clear the way on the stakeholder side, but often UXers are clearing that path themselves. Temple gives us a wonderful, specific example of how to cost-justify usability and achieve usability goals for all the right reasons.

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