Usability Not Usable? – Part 2

“People are usually not receptive to a newcomer waltzing in and telling them they’ve been doing their jobs wrong.”

Usability departments exist in a number of our client organizations. Unfortunately, their organizational structural frequently instills an adversarial relationship between the project teams and usability group. The usability group is considered an outside agency – ony evaluating ‘ready for prime time’ work.

This relationship places the usability professional in the lose-lose position of telling the project team their baby is ugly.

Here are 3 tips for making this process more valuable for everyone:

  1. Invite everyone in all the project meetings from the start. This includes developers, usability professionals, project sponsors, clients, and even a customer or two. (and make the meetings working meetings)
  2. Evaluate early and often. The earlier in the project customer insight is captured, the more valuable is it to the project (and the customer). The project is less malleable as time progresses, more decisions (good & bad) have been made, more constraints exist. Everyone learns from early evaluation.
  3. Create, don’t just destroy. Usability evalutions are most valuable and insightful when participants are offered alternatives to compare. Perhaps alternatives don’t exist for the initial evaluation session, but they surely exist for each additional. To make the most of the evaluations the learnings from each session to the next participant in the form of a rough prototype.

The quote beginning this post is from from Ester Derby’s article Change that Fits. Her story describes a recently-fired software development quality engineer. Usability professionals should heed warning.