What if Your Audience Members are Bozos?
From Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for December 17, 2007 ("Web 2.0 Can Be Dangerous"):
In contrast, on the Web, most people are bozos and not worth listening to.
This seems very strange, since Nielsen relies on a bunch of bozos to tell him what they think does or doesn't work on a website, which he then reports to us as the criteria suggesting what we should and shouldn't do. Is he saying that now we should not listen to him, since he relies on the ability of people who are not worth listening to?
Of course not...and for several reasons.
- The recruiting process for usability testing is generally designed to weed out people whose ability falls below the median.
- In this passage, Nielsen uses a generalization in language to represent a specific instance. A mistake in logic that might cause others to confuse him for Ebenezer Scrooge. Users? Humbug! This could be caused by the fact that English isn't Nielsen's native language. Or he could just be an ass. I'm not sure.
I disagree with the sentiment that "most people are bozos" entirely. We all have our strengths and weaknesses -- some are more visible and more important than others. I, for instance, am almost entirely useless on pop culture trivia, which is a weakness for me since part of my job entails understanding what other people do with their time (spent, often enough to be important, consuming pop culture). Understanding this is a limitation makes it easy to know I must listen and observe with an open mind when performing user research. (See Jim Stroup's excellent series on Socratic Genius and Ignorance to further explore the limitations of expertise and knowledge).
Context is King
Nielsen's purpose in the above passage was to contrast the quality of user reviews between members of a company and the general public, but he makes the perfectly valid point that in cases where user-generated reviews are scarce or slow in coming, employee-generated reviews in an intranet are likely to be more reliable.
Your Audience is Your Lifeblood
The greater point, though, is that if one thinks so poorly of the audience he seeks to attract, he may not be equipped to serve them well. - Cam Beck
Addendum: David Armano gives his take on usability's role in people-centered design. It's a worthwhile read and I highly recommend it.