New York Times article on "Usability Experts"No Comments
Technology’s Untanglers: They Make It Really Work
Published: July 8, 2007
SOMETIMES there is a huge disconnect between the people who make a product and the people who use it. The creator of a Web site may assume too much knowledge on the part of users, leading to confusion. Software designers may not anticipate user behavior that can unintentionally destroy an entire database. Manufacturers can make equipment that inadvertently increases the likelihood of repetitive stress injuries.
Enter the usability professional, whoso work has recently developed into a solid career track, driven mostly by advancements in technology. Jobs in the usability industry are varied, as are the backgrounds of the people who hold them. The work can involve testing products in a laboratory, watching people use products in the field or developing testing methods.
When the federal government was creating its informational Web site (now known as usa.gov), it brought in usability experts to look for flaws. By watching users, the site’s creators found that people were having trouble finding an individual agency’s Web site because they did not know which department to look under.
“Even people in the Washington, D.C., area didn’t know that,” said Janice Redish, a usability consultant who worked on the project in February 2002. “It was an easy fix once we knew it.”
Dr. Redish, whose background is in linguistics, is a usability consultant specializing in Web sites and software interfaces. In 1979, she founded the Document Design Center for the American Institutes for Research to examine how the government could make its documents more understandable. By 1985, she had established an independent usability laboratory and was testing software interfaces and documentation for companies like I.B.M. and Sony.
“It’s really a field that has taken off in the last three, four, five years,” Dr. Redish said. “I think the Web has really made companies and agencies understand they are in a conversation with their customers.”
In some cases, usability research has become very sophisticated, relying on equipment like eye-tracking software to analyze precisely what users are looking at on a computer screen. But in most cases, Dr. Redish said, the work relies on solid observation and interview skills.
Eric Danas, a geophysicist who worked for years in the oil exploration industry, became involved in usability after seeing how information could be tailored to different audiences. He went back to school and received a graduate degree in human factors (the study of how people interact with technology and other things) and advanced interface design.
In 1995, Mr. Danas became a usability expert specializing in software design. Today, he works for Microsoft, leading a “user experience team” that examines how to make software more accessible.
“The users of our products don’t really care about the technology,” Mr. Danas said. “They just have a job they’re trying to do. We bridge the gap between what technology is capable of doing and what users want to achieve.”
Many usability jobs are related to computers and the Web. But usability professionals are also in demand in fields like medicine.
Mary LaLomia, who has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, is a product manager who specializes in usability at Philips Medical Systems in Bothell, Wash. As part of the job, she recently surveyed 20 sites where the company’s ultrasound system was being used. She helped examine everything from the design of the equipment to avoiding repetitive stress injury to how patient information flows through the system.
In response to a growing demand for usability jobs, schools are offering degrees in areas like human computer interaction, new media and accessible Web design. But much of the training for usability jobs is happening in the workplace.
“People come into it from many different areas,” Dr. Redish said. “Anthropology, for example, is a great background for the field service aspect, going out to a customer’s workplace or a person’s home.” She said that linguistics is relevant “because it’s all about how people communicate.”
The Usability Professionals’ Association offers tutorials and holds an annual meeting. The Society for Technical Communication also has a group on usability and user experience.
General online job boards are a good resource for usability jobs. In addition, the usability association lists job postings on its Web site, and job placement firms like Bestica Inc. specialize in usability design jobs.
Harvinder Singh, president of Bestica, which is based in San Antonio, says that there is a shortage of people to fill usability jobs.
“We’re working with companies like Microsoft and Yahoo and having a lot of trouble finding user-experienced people,” he said.
More companies are dividing the various aspects of the job, he said. A business might want a usability researcher to go out and talk with users and examine what they’re comfortable with. Then it might employ a usability design expert to incorporate the researcher’s findings into the way a product works.
According to information compiled by the usability association in 2005, annual pay in the field in the United States started at about $49,000 and rose to about $120,000. The average salary was $86,500.
Usability position are receiving more visibility within companies, and high-ranking positions like director of usability are being created, Mr. Danas of Microsoft said. “From a career standpoint I think there’s a lot of opportunity, and that’s getting broader every day," he said.
Artículo original (hay que estar registrado al NYTimes): http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/business/yourmoney/08starts.html?ex=1184817600&en=fe898119cbb2e5b6&ei=5070
Leave a comment
Your email address will not be published.