The Lewis and Clark UX

We had a lovely day on Lewis and Clark lake, behind an Army Core of Engineers dam on the Mighty Mo (the Missouri River) last Friday. We had been to Lake Okoboji on Memorial Day, a fun, busy lake that reminds me of lakes back in Michigan. Lewis and Clark lake is surrounded by state park areas, however. It is quiet. We stayed at the vacation home of friends of ours, a beautiful house on a bluff overlooking this beautiful, peaceful lake.

After boating on the lake for a bit, we stopped to take in nature and settled in to read. I pulled out Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition I don’t often read such books a second time, but this was a good time in the project to re-read this one, and it was the right-sized book to bring along. It is simple, to the point, and almost like vacation reading, but with less of a plot.

One point Klug makes is that where there are standards in user interface design, it is good to use them or to know why you have opted not to do so. I can certainly agree with that. What might be a reason not to use the same user interface as others do when implementing similar features?

For some design choices, I choose a 1980’s style design over a Web 2.0-like design (and no, I won’t discuss the meaning of that overused marketing term). I want a bit of that simple, rock-solid, ATM-like interface that even my mom would use without thinking it has disrupted life. I don’t want to surprise people with something they don’t want to see.
Or do I? Imagine my surprise when right there on Lewis and Clark lake, where the shore was almost undisturbed by civilization, I spotted a farm (you might call them confinement lots, we call them farms). If you have read previous blogs, you might recognize that one reason for me to get out of town and head to a lake is that I am allergic to cows and pigs and we live ever so close to ever so many of them. Really surprising to me is that I spotted it before I smelled it. Even when we got closer to see that this was a very meticulous farm, it still did not smell much at all.
We later learned that this was a Hudderite farm. The story we were told is that each year each of the men in this Hudderite community draws their job for the coming year out of a hat (metaphorically, at least). I enjoyed the story, enjoyed seeing a farm on this otherwise very secluded lake in spite of typically avoiding such, and enjoyed my entire time on the lake. This farm added to my enjoyment, it did not detract from it.

My Lewis and Clark lake experience recap: I left our farm town to find fresh air on a lake a couple of hours away, only to find that cows and pigs followed me there, showing up on a confinement lot on the shores of the Mighty Mo. What a terrible user experience (UX) this should have been, but it wasn’t. I enjoyed every bit of it. I like confinement lots even less than the average PETA person. It was a surprise, but an oddly good one, to encounter this farm.

Who would have thought that seeing a confinement lot on this lake would have been a good user experience for me? It seems so unlikely. Perhaps the fictitious, but likely, farmer on the boat a mile down from us was disturbed by seeing the farm. But how can anyone know in advance? Maybe on another day under different conditions each of us would have had the opposite reaction.

It really is very hard to know what your users will experience when they use your software. You can do UX testing until the cows come home, and you will learn a lot, but there will still be many mysteries. If you make everything calm and peaceful, like floating on a lake with beautiful weather and undisturbed (ok, that dam was quite the disruption at one time, no doubt) nature all around for miles, maybe that would not be as good a user experience as having users see or do something unexpected, even if not pretty.

From now on when I am surprised in some potentially negative way when doing a pre-UX test of our software, I might just consider the feature to be part of a Lewis and Clark UX.


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