A 15-year-old interesting brief column from noted usability expert Jakob Nielsen, which I saw posted today on reddit: First Rule of Usability? Don’t Listen to Users
Summary: To design the best UX, pay attention to what users do, not what they say. Self-reported claims are unreliable, as are user speculations about future behavior. Users do not know what they want.
I’m reposting here, even though it’s 15 years old, because I think many of us haven’t assimilated this message yet, especially in libraries, and it’s worth reviewing.
An even worse version of trusting users self-reported claims, I think, is trusting user-facing librarians self-reported claims about what they have generally noticed users self-reporting. It’s like taking the first problem and adding a game of ‘telephone’ to it.
Nielsen’s suggested solution?
To discover which designs work best, watch users as they attempt to perform tasks with the user interface. This method is so simple that many people overlook it, assuming that there must be something more to usability testing. Of course, there are many ways to watch and many tricks to running an optimal user test or field study. But ultimately, the way to get user data boils down to the basic rules of usability:
- Watch what people actually do.
- Do not believe what people say they do.
- Definitely don’t believe what people predict they may do in the future.
Yep. If you’re not doing this, start. If you’re doing it, you probably need to do it more. Easier said than done in a typical bureaucratic inertial dysfunctional library organization, I realize.
It also means we have a professional obligation to watch what the users do — and determine how to make things better for them. And then watch again to see if it did. That’s what makes us professionals. We can not simply do what the users say, it is an abrogation of our professional responsibility, and does not actually produce good outcomes for our patrons. Again, yes, this means we need library organizations that allow us to exersize our professional responsibilities and give us the resources to do so.
For real, go read the very short article. And consider what it would mean to develop in libraries taking this into account.