During my PhD studies we did a very interesting study on how system developers understand and experience usability methods. The paper was written by Elina Eriksson, Jan Gulliksen and me and it gives some answers to interesting questions.
This paper was one of the hardest papers to publish, mostly due to the use of several methods for data collection which is a bit non-traditional. However, after a few submissions and re-submissions it ended up being a paper well worth reading. You find the paper here:
The paper’s abstract:
How do you do usability work when no usability expertise is available? What happens in an organization when system developers, with no previous HCI knowledge, after a 3-day course, start applying usability methods, and particularly field studies?
In order to answer these questions qualitative data were gathered through participatory observations, a feed back survey, field study documentation and interviews from 47 system developers from a public authority.
Our results suggest that field studies enhance the developer’s understanding of the user perspective, and provide a more holistic overview of the use situation, but that some developers were unable to interpret their observations and see solutions to the users’ problems. The field study method was very much appreciated and has now become standard operating procedure within the organization.
However, although field studies may be useful, it does not replace the need for usability pro fessionals, as their knowledge is essential for more complex observations, analysis and for keeping the focus on usability.