The Usability Team
I've been in the usability field for nearly ten years, with my experience encompassing academic research, corporate usability engineering, consulting as a usability engineer and information architect, and volunteerism for the Usability Professionals Association. My excitement for the field derives from my desire to always be an early adopter of technology, while at the same time being skeptical of that technology's usability, utility, and quality. I've been lucky to work with a variety of different types of products and in a variety of industries: software, telecom, web design, manufacturing, medical devices, and entertainment technology are just a few.
I consider myself to be a particularly pragmatic usability expert. I come from a technical background, with 15 years of computer programming experience. I am sensitive to the balance between usability, functionality, and quality. My design recommendations are based not only on severity, but also on feasibility and cost-benefit analysis. My methodological rigor comes from solid quality assurance practice: I am wary of amateur usability in the same way I am apprehensive of buggy software or poor product design methods.
Finally, my research endeavors with the UPA revolve around the evolution of usability from an often-mystifying science into a practical, well-defined business practice. I envision a place at the table with development, sales, marketing, and management, and I strive for bottom-line accountability for every dollar spent on usability and user-centered design. I hope to bring these philosophies to bear as a member of The Usability Team.
I believe that user interfaces are best designed when the interface designers and developers have some idea about who the users will be, and what they are like. Software developers tend to think that they are human, and they tend to believe that they are, therefore, representative of the target user audience. And so they sometimes trust their own intuitions as to what will be usable. This is a good strategy as long as their product/interface is to be used by only folks who have actually worked on the product or interface. If, however, the product is to be used by, letís say, OTHERS, it is a good idea to test others, before shipping or going live. And while Iím up on this soap box, let me offer two more bits of my personal philosophy.
I believe that individuals and companies should NOT pursue a course of usability engineering for their products because they want to be good citizens, or because ďitís the right thing to do.Ē Employing user-centered design approach is a business decision, best done only when the benefits outweigh the costs. And those costs and benefits can be measured and compared, with at least the same accuracy as lines of code, projected sales, or other estimates on which companies typically base their decisions.
I have been in the usability field since 1991 at companies like IBM, Progressive Insurance, and Rockwell Software. This experience instilled a pragmatic approach to usability that balances user needs with the needs of the business.
For me, working with technologists and businesspeople is a privilege; understanding the goals and objectives they have for a product is my first priority. Many usability consultants lead with questions like, "Who are your users?" I believe a user-experience strategy should be based on factors like: the goals you have for your product; your company's key business drivers; the technologies involved in your product development environment; and the skill set of your developers and designers. Once those are known, we can move on to scoping your users and ascertaining the risks they introduce to the successful deployment of your product.
You can expect to receive a usability services solution that is tailored to the state of your product, the appetite of your development team, the realities of your budget, and your development deadlines. Within this context, you can rely on The Usability Team to enthusiastically advocate for your users and maximize the usability and usefulness of your product.
Copyright © 2007 -
Randolph Bias, Scott Butler, and Richard Gunther. All rights reserved.