Is there a “seven-year itch” for usability folk? If so, I’m not feeling it.
But as I begin my seventh year in the trade (after many more years in advertising) I thought I’d share my thoughts on the best – and the worst – things about working in UX. Let’s start with the good stuff…
The Best Thing About Working in UX
The best thing about usability is that, like advertising, it’s based on characteristics of the human mind. Or put simply, it’s about how people think. This is a great thing for two reasons.
First, it’s inherently fascinating. To me, there’s nothing more interesting than figuring out what makes people tick. Much of it is counterintuitive, which makes it even more fascinating. (See my Persuasive Web Design series for examples.)
Second, it doesn’t change much over time. People’s thought processes work pretty much the same way today as they did centuries ago. So usability principles are durable: Once practitioners have learned something, it will always be useful. (Jakob Nielsen recently claimed that 99.5% of the usability guidelines he established 11 years ago still apply today.)
Our methodologies are even more resilient than our guidelines. Moderated usability testing, for example, will always work well. Fancy new tools will come and go, but at the end of the day, usability testing is all about observing people as they use your product.
Think how different things are for our colleagues on the technical side: Practitioners must constantly learn new tools, languages and interfaces. And much of what they learn today will be irrelevant in a few years. In comparison, we have it easy in usability; it truly is the ideal vocation for us lazy and unsophisticated types…
And the Worst
Actually, I find it hard to think of anything I don’t like about working in usability. But if pressed, I’d say this:
“The better job I do, the less it’s appreciated.”
When usability specialists do their jobs well, the product they deliver will be simple. Their solutions – in hindsight, of course – will appear obvious. So sometimes, the client’s reaction will be along the lines of, “Well of course you made it work this way. How else would you have done it?”
Many people just don’t understand: simple isn’t easy.
But occasionally being misunderstood or underappreciated is a small price to pay for the chance to work in such an amazing field. I love what I do.