Monthly Archives: June 2015

Terms of Service for a Survey

I recently got asked to take a satisfaction survey after staying at a hotel on the way back from UX Lisbon. The hotel stay was great. The satisfaction survey… well, the survey itself wasn’t so bad. But the odd thing was that before I could submit the survey, I had to check a box indicating that I accepted their terms of service.

survey TOSYes, that’s right, there were terms of service on that survey. Apparently, I couldn’t answer any of the questions with plagiarized material. Or give them any abusive answers. Or else… I guess they’d deny my use of the survey?

It’s just such a weird concept. If you take it seriously, it’s at odds with the idea of doing research, because when you’re doing user research, you want… well, you want to find out what people are thinking. Even if they’re super upset. So weird.

The Terrible Experience of Getting an American Passport

To get to UX Lisbon, I needed to get my first passport in years and years. It turns out getting a passport in the USA is a process that they manage to screw up at almost every step.

For starters, I can’t do this online. In 2015. The idea that I can’t access a wide range of government services from a computer, at my convenience, is ridiculous. No, instead I had to leave work early and show up between 9:00am and 3:00pm. Apparently the township clerk office provided these hours because they had to wrap up the paperwork before the postal service picked up the mail. Because they couldn’t hold the paperwork overnight. Because… well, there’s no real reason for that. The clerk said “because that’s the policy” which is basically another way to say “because screw you, that’s why.”

I filled out this paperwork by hand. Which means that when this physical form arrived at some office, someone had to type it in before they could use computers to check to see if I’m some sort of enemy of America. The clerk also had to take my picture, and print it out, and staple that picture to the form. Because… that’s a thing we’re doing in 2015? I mean, the thought that there are devices that will take pictures and then send digital copies of those pictures anywhere is crazy, right?

I also had to include a copy of my birth certificate. The one copy I have – a delicate, worn piece of paper from decades ago. A forgeable scrap of paper that somehow proves that someone with my name was born in the USA. Because… what, it’s impossible to keep these records online? Somehow, Amazon can figure out if I have an account but the USA can’t look up in a database to find out if I’m a citizen.

To top it all off, I had to write a great big check for over a hundred dollars for the privilege of filling out this paperwork. Because obviously funding government services through a system of taxation would just be bizarre, am I right? Oh, wait, I do pay taxes. A lot of them. For all sorts of garbage that I find morally repugnant. I just don’t pay taxes for some person sitting in an office to type in the data from my paperwork, I guess, even though we wouldn’t even need this person to type the data if we did this online, which we would in a sane system.

So, to summarize: We can spend trillions of dollars to wage disastrous imperialist wars overseas, but we can’t figure out how to make a system that would make life easier for Americans and not actually hurt anyone.

What’s the deal with “user testing?”

While I’m on the subject of language that bothers me, what’s the deal with “user testing?”

People harping about the phrase “user testing” is old news. As far as I can tell, it’s something that a few people care about a lot, and that most people do not even think about. When I hear people outside the game use the phrase, I cringe a little bit; when I hear fellow user experience professionals, particularly experienced ones, use the phrase, it really bothers me.

So, the classic argument: We’re not testing the users. We’re testing the usability of the interface. Or testing whether the user experience fits with what we were designing for. Of course, no one thinks we’re actually testing users, but words matter. How we say things matter. When we have a choice between an easily used ambiguous phrase (“user testing”) and an easily used unambiguous phrase (“usability testing”), let’s go with the one that cannot be mistaken.

“User Experience” Is Not a Thing You Can See

When did people start using the phrase “user experience” when they really mean “design?” As in “I’d like you to show me the mockups of the new user experience” or “that website recently came out with a new user experience.”

I mean, seriously.

In a sense, though, I suppose that in changing the design, the experience of the user is, of course, different. But the user’s experience is a property that emerges from the user’s interaction of a bunch of things that includes the actual design of the artifact. Unless someone has gone to the trouble of not just redesigning the website, but also the user’s browser, computer, environment, senses, and brain, to name a few things, then you can’t really go see the new user experience.

And really, how can you ever “see” a user experience just by looking at a picture or by clicking around on a newly designed website.

The best I can figure is that it’s yet another case of buzzwords gone horribly wrong. There is an increasing sense that “user experience” is important—that it’s important to design for good user experiences, to have user experience professionals kicking around the office. Somehow, maybe, that got reduced to “user experience = design.”

But it’s as annoying as saying “user testing.”