Egocentrism is something that we largely grow out of in childhood. There’s a famous test in developmental psychology called Piaget’s 3 mountains task (shown below). When you give it to 2-6 year old children, most of them fail. As soon as kids reach 6 years old, they start passing the test in much greater numbers.
Anyone who works in User Experience knows the importance of overcoming egocentrism and seeing things from other points of view. This is, of course, a different kind of egocentrism we’re talking about here – not so much “What does the person sitting opposite you see right now? “ but “What needs, goals and expectations do your users have when they interact with your service? What do they find confusing? What do they find undesirable?”
Let’s think about the UX consultancy industry for a minute. For many research consultancies, their bread-and-butter work involves selling small usability testing projects. For about $10-$15,000 USD the client gets an 8 user study, a few video clips, and a presentation that explains where the pitfalls are in their current site design.
These kinds of projects are mainly just an exercise helping clients overcome their egocentrism. Clients are so wrapped up in their own world view that it’s a huge eye opener to suddenly see things from the user’s point of view. What’s more, the first few times you do user research on a particular site, you’re very likely to uncover a good number of low hanging fruit for your client. The consultant’s work is easy, the client is happy, and the high price is entirely justifiable.
This puts consultancy firms in a comfortable position – it’s easy to keep rolling out small usability testing projects. As long as the clients are queuing up, what’s the problem?
Well, the big question to ask is whether this is a sustainable situation. Should we even want it to be? I’d argue that you’re a poor consultant if your clients keep bringing their designs back to you for exactly the same kind of project, and you keep giving them exactly the same kind of findings. It’s a fundamentally boring rut to get stuck in (your life starts to feel like groundhog day), and it indicates you’re treating the symptoms rather than the cause. Good consultancy involves educating your clients and equipping them with ability to change their organisation for the better.
Does this mean the UX consultancy is going to change, and that small usability testing projects will stop being bread and butter work? Personally, I hope so. It’ll be a good sign that we’re doing our jobs right.
Image credit: McGraw Hill
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A very mature way of looking at the job we’re meant to do :). I do agree that a very large part of the job should consist of training the people and making them aware of the importance of usability. Although most clients do understand this, I’ve also noticed (with my little experience) that some clients are reluctant to do it in-house and prefer to talk back and forth with the ux consultant.
Agree 100%. And, in my humble opinion, us UX consultants should work hard to integrate quantitative methods in our daily business if we want to make our industry progress.
Harry, having moved into the realm of UX training and process consultancy, of course I’m inclined to agree with you!
UX Consultancies, I think also suffer from their own form of egocentrism, which is that it should be as easy for clients to adopt UX as it was for themselves. But UX consultancies, by their nature are 100% sold on the philosophy, and recruit people with the awareness and the skills to practice it.
Clients’ UX teams are often a tiny silo in a huge organisation that doesn’t know, or doesn’t care about UX. The problem is that many consultants are set up to deliver very little except usability testing, reporting and the odd bit of wireframing. Therefore the only way they can transfer their knowledge is through the art-and-crafts method of ‘watch me and copy me’.
Beefing up the UX capabilities of a clients should be more about an attempt to upskill one or two individuals, as their organisation’s ability to leverage their skills over time is likely to be extremely limited. Proper development of UX within an organisation requires a strategy, executive support, training and tools. You can’t expect clients to pick all that up by following a recent HCI graduate around for a few days.
I know, I was once that graduate!
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Good article and I would take it a little further, beyond the coaching and supporting the client to do it right in the first place. There are so many disciplines within the UX space and they go deeper than providing a few wireframes/comments on an application. UX should be embedded right through the software development process with everyone involved understanding and seeing it from the “user’s” perspective. We at Caplin are exploring this with a couple of tools: Personas and Narrative Journey Maps. we are holding a workshop on this at SPA2010 http://www.spaconference.org/spa2010/index.php?page=programme.
If anyone else has had success with any “Tools” would love to hear from them.
The roles we find ourselves in will continue to evolve, and as we become more sophisticated with the other organizational aspects of a successfully operating business, we will find ourselves have greater impact on decision makers.
I see two paths that will exist concurrently. The first is internally focused, where our contributions will happen in the form of workshops, long term strategic process planning and program development. This kind of work helps create companies with little familiarity with a user centric approach to build that competency.
Another path will also include strategic outlook. With greater understanding in market trends, business/technology constraints of the business, we will find ourselves influencing VPs on new products and services instead of evolving or optimizing an existing solution already predefined.
I question how much long we will be doing these interaction design tests such as RITE method, heuristic evaluations, usability in general. The reality is going usability by people will compete with platforms designed to use statistical models to logically determine the “best” output. Imagine not just websites, but applications that can run A/B and multivariate tests on the fly to inform a better designed interface. What’s the value we add?
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