Users: Trust but Verify

Testing and talking to your users is an important part of understanding the usability of your system. However, the information you get cannot necessarily be taken at face value. It’s important verify your understanding of the users feedback. A great example I heard the other day talks about a father and son.

As the analogy goes, the mother is busy and asks her husband to draw a bath for their son. The father goes upstairs and runs the bath and then tells his son it’s ready. The son dips his foot in and then immediately jumps out and says “Daddy, make it warmer”. Now at this point, the general consensus would be to add some hot water to the tub. However, the key to the son’s statement is understanding the context of his comment. The father ponders this for a moment because he feels that the water should be plenty warm enough already. Checking the water himself he realizes it’s actually very hot. What the son meant by “make it warmer” was not to increase the heat, but actually decrease it from very hot to warm.

This is a perfect analogy for listening to the user’s requirements. While the user may not be as innocent in their language skills, they may be speaking from a very different context. That’s why it is important to trust the users request as valid, but be sure to verify that the communication was recieved correctly.