14 October, 2009

Painting the Right Picture

I read an article about New York city police officers attending a training on The Art of Perception. I have been very bad in understanding and interpreting works of art. I prefer to sit up and listen to a story instead. Being a science student, reading psychology books during my college days has helped me a great deal to understand the emotions of people, products, interactions, arguments, debates and many more. This experience also encouraged me to read diverse stuff, not just on testing. The above article forced me to think if I was sidelining a few attributes that would benefit the tester in me by not studying art.It was high time for me to re-think about my attitude on works of art.

While I was thinking about this whole thing, Marlena Compton posed a challenge on her recent blog post titled Visionary Testing – When Blogs Collide. I wished to take it up and try it out for myself. I have admired Raja Ravi Varma’s artwork all along my childhood. I chose the Lady with Lamp for my study.

My mind drew blank at the first glimpse of the portrait. I could not think anything about the portrait except that the lady in the portrait was yelling at me ‘Don’t you see what I am doing?, you nut!’. I took a couple more minutes to observe some attributes of the portrait. I have written my observations in two parts below: What I saw in the portrait and What I inferred from it.

What I saw?
The lady gives a strange yet polite stare while holding the lamp.

What I inferred?
There is a very high level of clarity and loads of confidence brimming in her eyes while she holds the lamp. She seems to know what she is doing, Why she is doing and How she is doing.


What I saw?
She is holding the stem of the lamp with her left hand as if with clinched fist.

What I inferred?
The way in which she is holding the stem of the lamp displays her determination to hold the lamp upright to avoid spilling the oil in the lamp. This also conveys that this lamp is made up of a copper/brass/iron or any other metal which is not only hard to hold, but also very heavy. Hence she has held it tight so it does not slip out of her hand.


What I saw?
She has held her right hand close to the flame.

What I inferred?
She does not want the flame to get blown away. Hence she is covering her right hand to avoid the wind/breeze from blowing the flame off. I also infer that there is a window/a door or a few windows/doors which are opened at this point in the room where she is standing right now. There is lot of wind/breeze flowing into the room that can put off the flame.


What I saw?
The lamp and the flame appear very close to her body.

What I inferred?
It appears like she has held the lamp very close to her body which in turn means that the flame can possibly burn her saree. However, there is a certain distance between the flame and her body which is concealed in the picture.


What I saw?
There is a large shadow behind her.

What I inferred?
This means that she is in a relatively dark room. This also means that the room is lit up from the light that is coming from the lamp and no other source of light. This has resulted in a large shadow behind her while she holds the lamp.


What I saw?
The veil on her head is partially covering her head.

What I inferred?
The veil on her head to me means that she belongs to a slightly conservative family where woman are expected to cover their faces with veil (which is typically one loose end of the saree) in front of other men and elderly people in the family. The partially covered veil means that she is alone in this room at this point.


What I saw?
The loose end of the saree on her left side appears wavy.

What I inferred?
There is a lot of breeze flowing into the room making the saree appear wavy.



Now what’s this got to do with the tester in me?
1. The Big Picture heuristic – Big picture looks too scary. Break it into smaller chunks. You will be able to see smaller parts of the big picture which makes the big picture clearer.

2. Observation – Having an eye for detail is a great attribute for a tester. If I do not observe the intricate details, I cannot figure out smaller attributes in the portrait! Good observation skills help identify the nitty gritties and boosts our imagination of the context of the portrait.

3. Perception – Perception is becoming aware of something via the senses. My perception of the portrait may be similar or drastically different from yours . This could be because we are different people having different perspectives and coming from different cultural backgrounds. To perceive what is exactly in the portrait is a challenge and that comes with studying more portraits.

4. Interpretation – Interpretation is a mental representation of something. Interpretation needs a deeper knowledge of the portrait and the context in which it was designed.

5. Investigation – What is the background into the portrait? Why is the portrait painted in a certain way? Why is the lady staring and not smiling? Investigate when all is well and investigate even when all is not well. Do you smell something fishy? Wow. you are on track!

Products are just like paintings. Unclear(Why is the product built this way?), Little or no background (Lack of Requirements), Difficult to Understand (What does it do, Why does it do and How does it do?), Difficult to convince people to buy (customizing the product to suit the needs of the customer). Well the customer asked for a soap and we jazz up a match box like a soap box. And the customer asks 'Nice box, but where is the soap?' .

At the end of this exercise, I felt amazing. Wow. I can study a portrait too. Atleast my first attempt looked decent enough. I am so glad I pushed myself to study a work of art and analyse it. I am sure to be respecting artists and works of art a lot more now.

Can you paint the right picture of the product in your mind?

Happy Painting,
Parimala Shankaraiah
http://curioustester.blogspot.com