Great post from Clay Shirky about the user testing setup in use at meetup. All members of a project team use a simple teleconference setup (skype or video chat of your choice will work) to watch a remote user navigate his or her computer screen to use the application.
They get real time visual and audio feedback as to the real problems the user is having with the interface. Incredibly valuable information that they need to have to do their job correctly. And of course, this is not some isolated event. They do it daily.
I am reminded of 2 related things. One, from a product design class I took as an undergrad in mechanical engineering. The rule of thumb they gave was 1:1 for the ratio of time spent with customers versus time spent on your own designing. As is incredibly obvious in so many case, the ratio is usually much lower. (much less time with users)
Second, I think this relates well to the ideas of Kaizen (continuous improvement) from Japanese manufacturers (introduced postwar by us consultants). In their system, all levels of the company, from assembly line worker to senior management are encouraged to think about and suggest changes to the processes that define their work flow. All levels are engaged in the process of improving the process. They create low level and high level feedback systems which seek to improve their everyday processes as well as their products. It’s no small part of why the automotive companies there build much better cars then the automotive companies in the US.
Where else can these ideas be employed? What about our goverment? Is there some sort of better feedback loop our government can employ? How does the web or other technologies enable this? Where else can we be learning more effectively?
It seems these reflective processes are so much more important than any of the end results. All of the end results will eventually be replaced by better things. So how do we change the focus? How do we get people to get excited about the process rather than the product?