Humbling.

Or possibly just mortifying.

So Kate and I went to this usability conference today — yeah, I know, I’m supposedly not doing web work anymore, but Kate wanted company on the drive, and it was nearby, and a couple of the panels sounded interesting, and what the heck, the last developer conference I went to was, um, eleven years ago. I don’t get out much. And it’s not like I had any other plans for that particular Tuesday. So off we went.

A couple programs on the schedule were devoted to online learning — not too surprising for an academic conference about web usability. And I’ve worked as a UI designer on four or five different online learning systems by this point. Wouldn’t it be funny, I joked, if one of the presenters happened to use one of them as an example? Ha ha ha ha, wouldn’t that just be hilarious?

Can you see where this is going yet?

It turned out to be this one, in which I had the opportunity to watch a very anguished-looking student hopelessly clicking around trying to find a particular page within a course management system which — well, which I’m not going to name here, for obvious reasons. But which I’m pretty much entirely responsible for, in terms of the UI: I designed the interface, built the templates, wrote all the client-side code, even macro-generated 256 copies of the logo so they could churn out those sites in a rainbow of colors. Up until, oh, say two days ago, I was pretty darn proud of that fact.

I can’t even play the “they made me do it” card; the feature the student was stuck on wasn’t some office politics-induced compromise, it was all my idea. And from talking to the presenter afterwards, it sounds like that student wasn’t exactly the exception to the rule.

The good news is that he offered to give me a whole stack of data they gathered in their usability testing on those sites — they did the whole shebang, right down to tracking the users’ eye movements to see which parts of the page they were looking at. Which is tremendous: I couldn’t have dreamed of talking the corporation into paying for that level of usability testing; and here I’ve had it all done for me for free.

And only three years too late for it to do the product any good. (Yes, they’re still using the exact same design I left them with in early 2003; as far as I can tell they’ve not changed a single thing. This sort of thing happens surprisingly often. I don’t know why.)

I have a feeling I’m going to learn a lot from this. I also have a feeling it’s not going to be a lot of fun.






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