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Why my mom should replace judges of design awards

Toddler explaining their mother how to use a tablet

Toddler explaining their mother how to use a tablet — Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

I am fascinated by the winners on award websites that judge the UI of products and the realizations that are digital pieces of art. Professional designers assess several submissions and rate them on several criteria like user interface design, usability, innovation, and development. While playing around with several winning sites, I was confused with the generally high ratings on usability and user experience. Even though they look visually pleasing or allow fancy technical stuff, I know my mother would have trouble interacting with them. She’s the perfect candidate for judging the submissions’ user experience.

Who is my mother

My mother is a friendly woman. She is not a professional in design or software development. She uses her smartphone to keep in touch with friends and family, buy random stuff online, watch low-quality recordings of movies on YouTube, and download apps that change her phone background (which have more adverts than content in them). She knows how to take screenshots because she sends me screenshots of the images she wants me to print out instead of the actual file.

Mii character of my mother created with Nintendo’s Mii Creator — versus vector created by starline

Mii character of my mother created with Nintendo’s Mii Creator — versus vector created by starline — Woman using Imac by Startup Stock Photos

My mother versus professionals

I have noticed most judges on the award sites are working as a creative director, visual designer, or web developer. I don’t doubt they are outstanding in their jobs and can create awesome stuff.

However, that is precisely why my mom might be better at judging the user experience of the submitted websites.

She is part of a user segment that does not get in touch with technology that frequently and is less familiar with web pages that hijack the browser’s scroll functionality or starts flashing after each small interaction.

Unless the web pages are exclusively for professionals crafting digital products and not for the general public, I believe it is not fair to rate the user experience or usability of a website an 8 out of 10 if my mother fails to get past the first two screens. Imagine telling your “failing” test users that they should be able to understand an application because professionals believe it is generally easy to use.

Judging template for my mom

Based on my observations of her struggling with digital products, I compiled a list that helps to determine a more correct score on usability for web design award websites. This scale is the very first attempt, so it needs some more iterations of research and feedback. I temporarily call this the Momability Scale. I use The user instead of My mom, so you can use this list for your test user.

1. The user can perform the tasks she wants to do

  • Without help +2
  • Once after observing me +1
  • Never or even after observing multiple times +0

2. The user understands what goes wrong and can handle the error they encounter

  • Without help +1
  • With help or is unable to handle +0

3. The user knows what they are doing and what they agree to

  • They know +2
  • They ask me and know what to do after I explain it +1
  • They ask me and ask me to do it after I explain OR I don’t understand it myself +0

4. The user completes the main task(s) in a reasonable amount of time

  • In twice my time or less +2
  • In thrice my time +1
  • In more than thrice my time (or never achieved) +0

5. The user can find multiple states or pages of the website

  • Can find and understand them +2
  • Can only find the first page(s)/states and understands this page +1
  • Cannot understand the first page/state +0

6. The user reports the following amount of frustration

  • No frustration +1
  • A bit of frustration +0
  • A rage quit -1

You select the most suitable option for each item and add up the corresponding values. The minimum score is minus one and the maximum is ten. Although the scale can use some more tweaks, it illustrates how I would calculate the points based on my experiences as my mom’s personal IT support person (and maybe also my knowledge and experience with user experience).

Please note that this scale is not validated. I have included elements that correspond to learnability, understandability, error handling and user control which are also touched on in Nielsen’s famous heuristics and the System Usability Score (SUS). I recommend using one of those tools to professionally report a system’s usability.

The award-winning websites may be pieces of art, but it is important to stay critical while judging their usability, user experience, or other attributes. My mom probably doesn’t know what user experience means, but we need to take her experience of using the website into account to find out if it truly provides a good one.

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Hannes D’Hulster

It has been 5 years already since I went my own way, head-first into design research. I was a bit scared, naturally, but I was also really eager to be my own boss.