Ruthless Profiteering Breeds Bad User Experiences
One element of remaining competitive is to develop a unique selling proposition (USP)—for example, adopting a scientific technique in the industry of user experience. For this to work, adopters must be experienced in using the tool. Their knowledge has to be strong enough to enable them to adapt its function and apply it effectively to a new area.
Naturally, this forces others to either catch up or differentiate in other ways. Those playing catch-up may have little experience with the technique, so are unable to make an informed decision about how to apply it. As a consequence, they are under pressure to sell and use something that
- they don’t understand
- has ambiguous value
- has hidden limitations
The more obscure an approach seems, the harder it is to understand when you should use it, when you could use it, and when it’s a complete waste of time.
Those who don’t really understand a technique often try to sell it at every opportunity, believing that it always adds value. This devalues the technique’s strengths and overcomplicates what should often involve a very simple form of descriptive testing and discourse.
The more we use something, the less special it becomes. As we begin to accept its use as providing a minimum level of value, this undermines a technique’s actual added value. We can often attribute this to a lack of transparency around how the technique works. Often, the pioneers who make use of a service seek only to distance themselves from the competition. This promotes short-term company growth, but hinders industry development. Many who could clarify the situation do not want to set themselves apart in their field as leaders or educators.
All of this forces other UX professionals to guess when to use a tool or technique, with the result that its real value and applicability become obscured, and many come to perceive it as being right for any job.
Eyetracking and User Experience
The most obvious scientific technique to achieve a high rate of adoption in the UX community is eyetracking. However, the average UX professional’s knowledge of its scientific applications has remained focused on how and when to apply eyetracking—not why.
As a result, eyetracking guides are big business, and many great, practical application guides have been created. However, few have taken the time to step back and look at the impact that false claims and the forceful introduction of the technique have had on the UX industry.
We No Longer Sell Clients on Eyetracking—They Demand It
One of the hardest parts of our job can be justifying a new or novel approach. This is especially difficult when we begin to work with a new client who has experience working with one or more agencies—especially when that agency views eyetracking as a minimum standard for research.
Clients are now requesting eyetracking without any consideration or awareness of the true implications of including eyetracking in user research. And why should they? The majority of our clients have little or no knowledge of the technique’s scientific heritage. They request it because agencies have sold eyetracking to them as the gold standard in research rather than educating them about the situations in which its use is appropriate. They perceive it as a bar that their research must meet and as being ubiquitous in usability testing—not as an ancillary service.
Profiteering on Eyetracking
Agencies frequently drive the hard sell by pushing eyetracking as an essential addition to user research. Many of them don’t fully understand what the tool can and can’t do, so include it in order to cover all the bases. They don’t offer their clients a baseline measure for a true standard in usability testing. Nor do they provide an informed comparison of the quality versus the quantity of their included services.
Once clients have been sold on using eyetracking, we must persuade them that it’s not always necessary to use eyetracking. We must reassure them that it’s okay to go back to the old-fashioned style of usability testing—without the bells, whistles, and tinsel. We must show greater reliance on something in which we are experts: discourse.