NN/g Usability In Practice: 3-Day Intensive Camp

Three Days of Usability at the The Roosevelt Hotel, NYC.

The entire 3 days were fantastic. I gained an understanding of the fundamental principles and methods of usability from each speaker: Jakob Nielsen, Kara Pernice, and Amy Schade.

Conference details

paper prototype

Paper prototypes rule! The task was to watch a video of a usability test with a teenage girl and then redesign an online diary for teenage girls centering on the promotion of the Britney Spears movie, CrossRoads. After our group did the redesign we conducted a usability test with our new paper prototype and 3 people: user, facilitator and computer. I played the “computer” role and had to make the interface responses to the user’s pen “clicks”. As the “computer” I was instructed to be quiet and neutral. If the “user” clicked on a page that we had not designed I would put a post it with an hourglass on the page – to show “under construction”- and quickly I could sketch out the requested page.


The last day we did a user profile project, where we watched a video of a real estate agent, Theresa, going about an average day at work. As a group, we took notes so we could compile a user profile poster of Theresa. The poster summarized the data while keeping it visual. Our data included a description of Theresa, photos, artifacts, quotes, task list, core competencies and data visualizations.

I enjoyed the event but… I have a negative comment with regards to Jakob Nielsen’s discussion of the relationship between design and usability.
First he discussed user centered design and dimensions of usability as a quality criterion. He then went on to talk about issues that can arise due to domain expertise. He asserted, “the audience will dictate the design” and cautioned the designers to avoid user vs. design team pitfalls. He added that an in house design team can look at a site 8 hours a day maybe for 3-20 years and might think- A fresh design is needed! while users might think- the design is okay, we like it. So designers, “know too much.” Ummm, I had a slight problem with this statement but thought there is a bit of truth to becoming too familiar with a site.

Next he likened web design to furniture design – design is problem solving- working within restrictions and constraints. design has to work – while art doesn’t. Okay, good so far. I am listening. He then broached the topic “Does usability kill creativity in design.” This is where he lost me. Maybe I misunderstood his example but he said – the laws of nature are like the laws of psychology. He associated laws of nature- like gravity to laws of psychology- such as user behaviors. This is where things went south for me. My thought is that unlike gravity – user behaviors are not fixed or constant. I realize there are conventions and patterns that may be used in web design that are based on current user behaviors – but I sensed that Mr. Nielsen doesn’t accept that user behaviors can change and adapt. With all due respect – users do more then scroll and are adapting newer conventions day by day (even my 85 year old grandmother).

Wow. So on day one there was a bit of an antidesign feeling in the room which paved the way for an audience member to comment on day two that he thought “most designers are big on attitude.” So my recommendation would be to drop the us vs them attitude. So much of web design and web usability overlap and the best solution is working together to improve the overall experience.