Chris Brummel

Design is Everything. Testing is Just Spell Check.

If you missed Chris Brummel’s talk at the Seattle Interactive Conference earlier this month, here’s a quick look at his topic, why it inspires him, and what he thinks are the most valuable takeaways.

You recently gave a talk at the Seattle Interactive Conference titled “Design is Everything. Testing is Just Spell Check.” Provocative title. Can you give us an overview of your topic?

As we are escaping into our social media sites and apps at an ever-increasing pace, we need to be thinking about how we shape culture in these spaces too, and produce apps with vision. User testing and A/B testing are great tools at your disposal and are an input to a decision, but are not a decision in and of themselves. Testing alone does not produce vision and I wanted to talk about how to use testing and still maintain your vision in your product.

Why did this topic inspire you enough that you wanted to tell others about it?

I’ve been hearing my designer friends at larger, more engineering-focused companies complain that their product managers were treating designs as engineering problems that can be solved without designers, but instead through a ton of A/B testing to arrive at a beautiful final state. I put this talk together as a defense against that train of thought. The results you get back from testing can teach you a lot, but focusing on them exclusively often overlooks details that can’t be seen through user testing.

You talk a lot about culture in your presentation, but that word means different things to different people. What does it mean to you in the context of your presentation?

Culture is “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time.” This basically boils down to how people express themselves intentionally or unintentionally. And I’m mostly interested in talking about the arts in particular and how they express unique points of view or vision.

At the end of your presentation you give a list of four action items people can do to ensure they are testing the right aspects of your design. The fourth one is to “Use the Whitney Houston Method.” What is this?

At one point in the talk I mention the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena and its vehicle design program. I mention that the showcase for car designs is like an eight-year window into the future. Cars take a long time to produce and get certified, so they’re working on growing people’s taste to arrive at the same place eight years into the future. I see children in this same fashion, so I call it the Whitney Houston method because “I believe the children are our future” and we need to let them lead the way. If you watch how children use interfaces, and even the interfaces that young people are using today, it’s like an eight-year window into the future of interfaces.

I hear a lot about the issues that people have with the UX of Snapchat and Snapchat clones, but there are lessons to be learned about how kids use them and what’s to come next. Even if you’re not a fan of the design there is no denying that it’s the future. Also, you can tap a little bit into this for your product. For user testing your product, I’d advise looking for that child-like wonder and grab industry outsiders who aren’t familiar at all with the product, to test alongside existing users.

Many of your audience members at SIC are already working in the UX/design field. What do you want folks from other disciplines to take away from your talk?

That design is a grey science and isn’t exclusively about the numbers. Looking too closely at test results and not taking into consideration outside factors can be very dangerous for your product.

To view or download a copy of Chris Brummel’s slides from the 2016 Seattle Interactive Conference please visit SlideShare.


Image courtesy of Dmitri Popov for Unsplash.

Chris Brummel

Chris Brummel is responsible for overseeing the user experience of L4 products. Chris takes projects from basic requirements, and forms them into fully-realized products, taking each platform's distinct differences into account. Chris has over 20 years of experience in UX/design, starting with the web and switching over to mobile after the iPhone's smartphone revolution in 2007. Since then, Chris has designed award-winning mobile applications that have reached millions of users, including Foursquare for Android.

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