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Solving Usability Arguments – Beware of Bikeshedding

bikes and a red shed

Photo credit: emdot

One of the biggest problems working on a team is getting everyone on the same page. Often times the visionary leader wants pizzazz and special effects. The developers wants things simple to make (I’m guilty of initially saying no, not because an idea is bad, but because it’s a lot more work). And the designer wants a portfolio piece. Let’s not even go into the sales and marketing guys who want to ask for the name, address, household income level, and contact information of everyone coming to the site.

Often times arguments aren’t over big things. They’re usually small things–the things that don’t matter:

“Most users like pull down menus”,

“Many users don’t like Flash”,

“Blue is the most trusted color–let’s make everything blue”.

Have you heard these arguments before? If you’ve found yourself in this place, I recommend you read “Why Should I Care What Color the Bikeshed Is?

This is an old post from an open source software project and it hits this phenomena on the head. Big changes and big ideas usually sail through the group with little effort. This is because many do not feel comfortable challenging another persons authority on these big complex ideas–they feel they don’t have enough of a clue. But when the discussion gets down to the little things, the discussion degenerates as everyone has something to say. This is called bikeshedding and it’s dangerous.

There are two answers to bikeshedding. One answer is to test and collect information for both options. You can do this by saying “This is a great thought experiment, let’s table the discussion for now and get some external information”. The next task is to test.

Feedback Army is used for this purpose all the time. Clients often submit multiple image mockups of a site that’s in progress. Each mockup differs with only one or two details. They then ask the workers to look at the differing detail and to state what they expect to happen when they interact with this detail. They then receive 10, 25, or 50 responses from outsiders about this detail. I suspect that sometimes they learn this detail doesn’t matter. Other times they probably make a change. The point is–it’s cheaper to test for $45-$90 than to waste a half hour of everyone’s time.

Another answer is to have the group leader recognize bikeshedding and end it right there. Given the cost issue, how about “Bob, when you open your mouth, it’s expensive” or “We’re arguing over a trivial detail, let’s move to something more productive”.

Beware of bikeshedding and be sure to test!

Posted in usability testing on January 12, 2010 | 1 Comment »

One Comment on “Solving Usability Arguments – Beware of Bikeshedding”

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