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Subject:
From:
Scott Berkun <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Scott Berkun <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Fri, 8 Jul 2005 18:29:40 -0700
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From: "Leslie" <[log in to unmask]>
> My user experience group resides in a large financial organization where
> we work mostly with web applications for running the business, not with
> customer facing web sites. We’re trying to convince more project managers
> & developers that they all need some usability engineering on their
> projects.

I think you'd be well served by also asking the question in the opposite 
way: How would any developers ever have heard of usability?

I'm risking making myself quite unpopular given the nature of this forum, 
but rephrasing the question as I'm suggesting reflects the history and 
current state of the tech sector.

Any way you formulate the numbers, usability/human factors/Designers of any 
kind are dramatically outnumbered by people with software development, 
computer science or MBA backgrounds. Even in universities that have both 
programs I doubt a single one has ever graduated as many design or HCI folks 
as CS or engineering. Same for corporations that make web or software 
products: even in the minority of companies that have dedicated design or 
HCI groups, they're often working in service of larger engineering focused 
parts of the organization. (There are exceptions, but that's my 
point...they're exceptions).

Another way to look at this (and your examples) is not about job titles but 
about roles. The Macintosh, Xerox Parc's GUI, the first mouse, and dozens of 
other huge HCI innovations were (are still are) done without people with 
usability engineer or interaction designer job titles in the room. There is 
no law that says you need a degree or a job title to do good work. It helps, 
sure. But we should care more about the quality of the work than the 
pedigree or business card of the person doing it. There are many web 
developers these days that are crossovers between developers and interaction 
designers. Steve
Krug's "Don't make me think" was not a bestseller because of usability 
engineers - it was a purchased by individuals in other roles that had an 
interest or responsibility for making things better. So the person in your 
quote may be exposed to some good design practices, but without calling it 
usability engineering or other formalizations.

Specific to my suggested rephrasing of the question: when in a typical 
computer science or MBA education (and career) would an individual likely 
first hear about ease of use? In the context of a specific set of skills and 
practices (and not just as an abstract quality of a thing)? When will they 
have their first conversation with a designer or usability engineer?  Did 
they have a positive opinion afterwards? (Research hint: you won't get real 
answers to this question on HCI mailing lists like this one.)

HCI and usability have come a long way - but the fact is that anyone working 
in design or human factor must see themselves as ambassadors to the ideas of 
user centered design. Most of us will always be in collaborative roles where
we contribute largely by influence, not by decree - and the more comfortable 
and skilled we are in explaining ourselves, and our value, the more success 
we'll have. Look at the history of any other role in your world: marketing, 
test, localization, and you'll find useful histories of how new roles are 
introduced, developed and adopted (or.. gulp.. rejected) by the core of how 
products are made.

My answers to your suggested questions would be directed at quality. How do 
they know the software is easy to use? How important is it that they improve 
it next time? I'd let them tell me what they want to do and how they're 
doing it, and only then suggest how they might go about doing it better. I'd 
leave talk of usability engineering or methodology out of it
until I'd convinced them there was a better way to achieve what they want to 
achieve. If you want more project managers to do something start with 
understanding what the project manager's goals are, and start on their 
terms, not yours.

-Scott

Scott Berkun
www.scottberkun.com 

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