Musings from Mike Atkinson on Internet strategy, usability, and more...

Learning UX from TV?

[note: UX = User Experience]

I was intrigued by the ads for last night’s “Without a Trace.” We watch a few of the crime shows – “CSI” (only the original…we’re snobs that way), “Criminal Minds,” etc. My wife and kids and I love trying to out-think each other to see who can figure it out first.

Anyway, I’ve never seen this show, only because staying up past 10 pm is way past my wimpy bedtime. But it did look like a great show, so we stayed up after an exhilarating “CSI.”

If you didn’t see this episode of “Without a Trace,” here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

  • Teen son missing
  • Parents worried
  • Hours pass, no signs of son
  • Parents really worried
  • Missing persons report
  • FBI called in (apparently the show’s regular cast)
  • Parents really freak out over the way they’re treated (personal, probing questions, looking through their son’s room, etc.)
  • Parents go to FBI office to identify possible friends, talk to different agents, etc.
  • Ugly scenarios bubble up about son
  • Parents really freak out

I’ll stop there so you can catch it in reruns (or Tivo) and I won’t ruin it.

When the show was over, I was so impressed. I realized it was one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen. I thought more today about why that was. First off, the actors who played the mom and dad were exceptional! Then I realized that it was so impactful because they made us experience this awful situation like we were one of the parents. It was our son who was missing. We felt the frustration of no news for so long. We felt the despair when things we didn’t know about him surfaced.

We moved from sympathy to empathy.

What helped me realize this was that in the last scene (and I’ll try not to spoil it) there is a big confrontation involving SWAT. We drive up to the scene with the parents, who are told they’re a half mile away. All they can do is sit there and listen to the radio traffic. When shots are fired, we scream with them, insisting we be allowed to go to the scene.

Okay, when was the last time you watched a crime show and there was a shoot-out and you didn’t see it on the screen?!

Then, in my sick, user-centric mind, I realized that they made characters who are usually not the center of attention the center of attention in this epidsode. This tack forced us to live in their shoes.

Well, isn’t that what user-centered design on the Internet (or anywhere else) is all about? Empathy? Living, breathing, thinking, speaking, acting like your user?

This is why I warn my customers that I’ll be a robust user advocate throughout the project. Someone has to put their mindset on, so as to bring success to the project.

Who’s the user advocate in your organization? Some are more able to do this than others. Find these people and utilize their insights and skills as you develop projects involving your users.

Sidenote: I would hope the FBI shows this episode to all those in training. I can’t think of a better way to help them understand what others go through.


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