There is always the temptation in life to pretend to know things we don’t. Most of the time we do it to look big and clever, especially in the workplace.
The problem with doing this, however, is that when you are called on it in the workplace you’re likely to be left looking and feeling, mighty stupid.
The other problem if you’re a Usability professional is that the site you’ve worked on could fail because of your mistake!
Usability professionals are more prone to this ‘of course I know the answer’-syndrome than most. The 2 main reasons for this are:
- Other people expect us to have all the answers
- Users have a nasty habit of surprising us
These issues go to the heart of what people can expect from a Usability professional.
Lots of bosses/clients (justifiably) think “Heck, I pay you to know the answer, you went to school to learn the answer, your job is to tell me the answer – so get on and give me the answer”. The problem with this attitude is that it misunderstands the nature of Usability.
Whilst there is a body of knowledge that Usability professionals can draw upon, and we can very often give pretty good answers to peoples’ questions (especially on smaller-scale, simpler projects), a key assumption of the usability-trade is ‘If in doubt, ask the users’.
Sometimes, the best answer is to admit that you don’t know the answer and got to the people who do – the users.
Now, lots of usability-people will try and take a ‘best-guess’ at the answer, which is fine as long as we make it clear that it’s no more than that. The real damage comes when some hot-shot wannabe usability-consultant starts pronouncing opinions like they’re engraved on stone and the unchallengeable Word of God.
A quick bit advice of advice to anybody looking to hire usability-people : never trust anybody who says they have all the answers! Instead, put your faith in people who have a realistic view of Usability and who encourage you to ask the users.
So in conclusion – a good Usability-person will be able to help lots of clients in lots of ways – but one of the most important is educating them as to how important the guarantee that usability testingprovides.