Do usable sites require usability specialists?
August 13, 2001
Jared Spool's been sparking an interesting discussion on SIG-CHI list with claims that he's got tentative findings that some of the most usable web sites don't use "recognized" usability practices. (His initial post is here, with a follow-up, and a second follow-up.) Since Spool doesn't want to release the details until he's had a chance to further study things, at this point it's a bit difficult to assess his claims. However, I'm not necessarily surprised.

While Spool—provocative as ever—argues this may mean usability professionals don't really know what's usable, I think it's more a reflective of the blinders that profession seems to be put on itself—both in terms of methods and in terms of recognizing that those outside the traditional usability community can indeed design usable sites and software.

The real issue seems to be the "guidelines and testing" approach traditionally used by many usability specialists vs. taking a user-focused design approach that stresses understanding users, their goals and the context in which their doing things, and then keeping users in mind throughout the design process and using various iterative techniques to check designs as they development.

Case in point, Rodney Fuller offers an excellent case study (with some follow-up comments) about he brought a user-focused approach to his company—even though, like the companies Spool studied, the development team would probably never refer to "recognized" usability techniques. ::

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