Good design it seems can come from one of two places, brilliance or planning. Every generation has its talented designers, but they are few and generally too busy to help the rest of figure out our own problems. Good design doesn’t have to come from a genius. It can come from your users too.
I’ve been evangelizing about this at my company since before I even new what usability was. I saw people struggling with parts of the software we were developing and I felt for them. I joined the organization as a trainer and had seen people struggle with using off-the-shelf software. It seemed there was little I could do about improving it, but darn it, on tools we were developing, there must be an opportunity to influence how it was being built.
I’m sure my colleagues found me annoying (they almost said as much) with constantly asking questions along the lines of “Why do it we do it this way?” “People aren’t getting this” , but over time I’ve begun to have some influence over them on how our applications are built. I didn’t have much luck though until I began to talk more formally with our users. It’s not like I had some sort of questionnaire, I just really began asking them serious questions about what they liked and didn’t like about using the tools we were building for them. Reporting back their responses, I found, added credibility to what I was saying and some validation for my critiques. Slowly, people (management and developers) began to listen.
I’ve learned that users hold one of the keys to building usable applications. For the most part, they are eager to contribute to the development process; if only you ask. Informally, I’d say about 90% of the people I ask to help evaluate new tools we are developing, say “Yes”. Sometimes it’s very formal with questionnaires and structured testing, other times it’s looser with just simple questions like “What do you think of this?” or “Is this something you’d use?”
The key action step is to ask. If you don’t ask for feedback from the outside, the only feedback you’ll get is from the inside. Certainly you need that internal feedback, but insiders aren’t the only ones using the tool. Sometimes they never use it. Your users, meaning the people who actually use the application, are the ones you need to be talking to.