Change Attitudes By Involving Developers in Regular Usability Testing

Jared Spool

November 9th, 2012

Here’s a simple trick that will produce dramatic improvements in your product or service: bring the developers to your usability tests. Have them spend time watching users actually use the things they’ve built.

I’ve been doing this for 30 years and every time it’s exactly the same. As soon as they see someone working with the design, a feeling of pride and “this is why I got into this business” just rushes over them.

If the users breeze through the interface, using it just as intended, there’s a moment of glory that is quite rewarding. When the users struggle and become frustrated by the design, it’s hard for the developers resist the desire to do something to fix it. In fact, the hardest thing can be to prevent the developers from opening their laptops and trying to fix it while the user is still interacting with it. (That’s what we call a “high-end problem.”)

Sure, some developers might get defensive and claim that the user is stupid or shouldn’t be using their design. When that happens, you probably need to make your testing process more transparent and have the developers involved in choosing the participants.

Also, some cultures may make it difficult to involve developers regularly in testing. These are cultures that give lip service to making great designs, but aren’t ready to put the resources behind it. This probably means you need to find the right champion.

However, in my experience, once you get the developers to regular participate in the testing, you’ll see immediate and dramatic improvement to the designs that get produced. It’s hard to sit and watch users struggle and say “Yes, that’s the frustration we wanted our users to have.” Every bone in their body will make them want to focus on fixing that problem and start to delight instead of frustrate their users.

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