Don’t Be an Ostrich

Adopting post-occupancy evaluation in UX

Chuánqí Sun
3 min readAug 11, 2018

It’s (not) done!

You just handed off a major redesign. Three months of research, twenty-seven major revisions, and hundreds cups of coffee have all culminated in this pinnacle of glory. It’s finally done!

Except it’s not.

It’s not, even after you have answered every single question the developers have about your red-line.

It’s not, even after you have addressed all the technical constraints developers encountered during the implementation.

It’s not, even after you meticulously documented all the patterns and styles into a library for reference and reuse.

It’s not, because neither you nor the developers have talked to a real user. At the bottom of your heart, you are secretly wishing:

My design looks great on paper, so let’s keep it on paper.

You are an ostrich.

Ostriches don’t really stick their heads in the sand to avoid danger, but you get the idea.

What does the ostrich really fear?

Let’s ask the ostriches in the building industry.

Post-occupancy evaluation (POE) is a practice in the building industry where an architect would visit the building after its occupancy and interview its residents. It sounds like a great opportunity for collecting feedback and learning from mistakes, but it’s rarely practiced. Why?

Many awe-inspiring, prize-winning architectures are half building, half sculpture. Often made of specially molded concrete and steel, they are extremely expensive to alter, let alone any alteration would also attack the architect’s prestige and pride. So whatever usability issues the POE identifies will remain as issues, unless the architect wants to accept the public criticism and shame that comes with the remodeling.

In fear of criticism, an architect would turn down the opportunity for POE, and continue to design the same roof that would leak water in future projects.

In fear of criticism, a developer would use customer service representatives as a shield against user complaints, while focusing on the “technical” aspect of things.

In fear of criticism, a designer would close the contract as soon as the client accepts the design, even though none of the real users are represented by the client.

What are we doing here?

Software is not made of concrete and steel. Software is extremely cheap to alter. Software is not a piece of art. It’s primarily a piece of utility that solves a real-world problem more efficiently than human beings alone can do. Nonetheless we designers and developers have too much pride over the software we make, and forget about the real-world problem we are trying to solve.

So here are some gentle reminders:

  1. Our goal is not “designing and building a thing that has features XYZ”. Our goal is “helping people solve problems XYZ”.
  2. Our profession is not about us. It’s about the people and organizations around us.
  3. Our managers, teammates, and users don’t care about how smart or capable we are. They care about whether the software works or not.
  4. We might not be able to help users in the past projects but the lessons we learned will benefit future users.

Don’t be an ostrich. Talk to real users. That’s what we do here.