The difference between asses and guinea pigs


Matthew Baxter joined Caplin as Head of UX Design in December 2012.

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“When you assume, you make an ass of you and me.”

The trouble with this aphorism, apart from the fact that you should really take a long, hard look at yourself if you go around regurgitating such trite, hackneyed old twaddle on a regular basis, is it’s usually wrong.  Assumption can be trusted to save time, money and effort in almost every case, provided you are in possession of the knowledge necessary to make the right assumption.

If you perform any kind of professional consultancy, you are paid to make assumptions based on your training, experience and talent.  Assumptions are educated guesses, and we all make them all the time if we want to get things done.  Assumption based on understanding the domain, the user and their stories and the client is what we do.  Assumption without understanding is a recipe for disaster, but starting from scratch every time is obviously foolish, costly, wasteful and time-consuming.  So….

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“Let’s not re-invent the wheel.”

As user-experience professionals, we need to be sure we understand the relative efficacy of the basic visual and aural tools we can use to aid speed and accuracy, prevent error and minimize fatigue.  If we have data that supports the use or omission of different components, we can design user-experiences with powerful, objective evidence backing up our decision-making.  Increasingly we will also need to incorporate our clients’ brand values into our work; an appropriately coloured mast-head and a logo stamped top-left isn’t going to do it, the experience must ‘feel’ on-brand too, and we need to know how far we can go with that before we diminish good operational ergonomics.

Also, expectations are higher than ever; why should convention and precedent, rather than the boundaries of what is possible, limit what we offer?  People are increasingly comfortable with all kinds of virtual interaction, and what is considered ‘intuitive’ is becoming less to do with mimicking physical activity, and more about what really suits the user and the task:  Why should traders have their least satisfying or successful user experience at work using what are in effect the tools of their trade?

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To meet this challenge, the Caplin Systems UX team is going back to basics; adding to our considerable, experience-based knowledge in two ways:  Firstly by building a reference resource focusing on the psychology and physiology of interaction.  Secondly we are starting a user-testing programme with a difference:  We are creating a user “test bed” which will allow us to objectively assess the effects of fonts, colour, shape, size, pattern, contrast and brightness, animation and sound when performing the tasks and actions required of our users, but with all vestiges of trading removed, so the user cannot fall back on specific knowledge of the domain to ‘work around’ the different set-ups; allowing us to objectively assess the relative value of each tool through use.

We are looking forward to doing this both in house at Caplin, and ‘on the road’ at shows and events in the coming months, and we’ll share our conclusions online.  So we’re not planning to “make an ass” of anyone, but we may ask you to be a guinea pig.

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