Setting Expectations is for the user

Setting expectations is for the user

Lucas Hall UX

When it comes to design, setting expectations is for the user. We all have design goals for an interface, but be cautious–our aim should be to meet user expectations. A development team will usually want to implement the latest and greatest capabilities of the language they develop in. The visual or graphic designer will often want to put in the newest popular pattern. The user has their goals just like we do… But, as a User Experience designer, I must stress that the user’s goals should trump or be louder than our own.

I’ve been on some really frustrating projects. One particular project, I was pulled in to find that the design of the interface was being manipulated and driven by some key influencers on the team doing the development. It was clear right away that they loved the project they were working on. Before our UX team came aboard, they had to fend for themselves. They had their own goals, and because they were the ones that did the work, they’d regularly push back, often making assumptions on what the user’s goals were. When the design change that we were recommending wasn’t something they liked, they’d just say “Oh, that’d be to hard” or “Oh that’s not technically feasible”, not knowing that I have a development background that I draw ideas from. In fact, I remember their engineer setting up a meeting to determine the interface’s design strategy. That still seems strange to me since their engineer was not a design engineer, but a dev engineer. Luckily they invited the right people. When we got there, the boss’ boss showed up. She quickly guided that effort back on path and additionally helped reinforce the UX teams authority on this matter. It’s always nice to know there’s good leadership driving the ship. 🙂

Setting expectations on behalf of the user

Growing up, my mom would sometimes give the advise that “the squeaky wheel get’s greased”. So true right? It’s irritating sound–squeak, squeak, squeak–is enough to just get under your skin. Given enough time, the sound will break even the most reserved person down. I want to encourage you to be the squeaky wheel that brings the conversation back to the user’s expectations in these types of meetings. Each meeting that you are in where someone says, “I think we should do it this way” should be a meeting where you squeak up… I mean speak up.

“That’s a great idea {insert name here}. Let’s do a bit of quick investigation to see if it’s a function that answers a users needs or expectations. Priority is everything. To get the most bang for our buck, we need to identify the top goals of the user that we want to tackle and then track the rest.”

User’s set expectations through workarounds

We’ve all been in that situation where we have some interface to deal with, but for whatever reason we have to find a workaround for some limitation in the design of the interface. In Zaphiris’s book titled Human Computer Interact, workarounds are when users “adapt to the navigation sequence, hardware capabilities, and limitations of their… device by implementing workarounds.” To paraphrase, the user adapts to limitations in the interface.

as400 screens look similar to this

as400 screens look similar to this

I’ve worked for Costco for some time now. One special year, I had the opportunity to job shadow at the Costco warehouse in Seattle, in their Return To Vendor department. While sitting with the lady that was doing the job, I couldn’t help but notice that she had to do sever different “Swivel chair” action. She’d type on one screen, swivel over to another screen on a different machine and type what she just learned from the first. She’d write something on a paper and then do something with one of the old products that needed returned. Over and over. She proceeded to describe this workaround and that.

When asked about the workarounds, the lady told me that she’s complained about the design of the screen several times and it’s not getting fixed, but the job still needs to be done. She figured the solution out herself. Sad. 🙁

The hard truth and the easy answer

If you are in a position of leadership and you happen to be reading this zealous blog about user expectations, I hope you have been jolted a tad. The user is the one who uses the interface. If the interface has usability problems, then they will be frustrated, confused, irritated, or downright closed off to your interface.

Usability is how well a design meets the user’s needs and expectations without causing them hinderance, hesitation, or question. What happens when we fail, and fail, and fail? In the case where users have other options, they simply move along to their next choice, and the interface withers away. Again, sad. 🙁

So how do you make your design usable for your user? Where do you start? Research first, design later. Before you design, get to know your user, their goals, their needs, and their expectations. Do that, and your UI will be a flying success!


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