Beef with the Usability Experts

Had to bring up this article that appeared in Web Techniques, February 2001 because it came up in an email exchange I had recently with a colleague. If this doesn't summarize the love/hate dichotomy with Usability people I don't know what does: What do these critics really know? Let them produce compelling work of their own rather than criticize others' work. Part of me just wants to ignore them. I want to ignore the certainty and finality of their arguments. I want to resist the idea that anyone really knows the right thing to do on the Web. . . . What I think Nielsen really wants us to do is right. We need to study user behavior and learn from the patterns that emerge. We can use this kind of learning to make sites better, which is really an endless design process. But remember what Larry Wall says about Perl programming—there's more than one way to do it. And I think that the last statement is right. There is more than one way to do things. We needn't sacrifice innovation at the hands of Usability. I think that's what a lot of people, creative designers and engineers alike, think when you refer to Usability recommendations. We get defensive and want to say, "You can't go by everything they say". But at the same time, we argue out of the other side of our mouths that we want to serve our users well, so we end up interpreting the the spirit of the Usability message -- often citing the current research to support decisions we make along the way. It is a struggle being an interface/user experience designer, and I often laugh at how I conceal what I've read in the Usability literature if it doesn't support the decisions I personally believe make sense for something and flaunt it when it supports another. As a sage septuagenarian friend of mine often said, "Such is life in the putty knife factory".