When I worked for a large corporation years ago, my project manager signed our team (programmers and designers) up for a mandatory training course on usability study, taught by some human factor expert. I immediately was resistant to the idea, because I was never a fan of those highly paid experts/speakers who come in and talk about nothing. After they leave, us poor grunts get stuck listening to our managers with their newfound vocabulary made up of “paradigm,” “synergy,” and “think outside of the box.”
The class went well. However, I didn’t feel I learned anything new. Most of the course materials were just common sense to me. As the years went on, I noticed a new title surfaced on job sites, “web usability analyst/architect.”
“Why not just hire a real designer instead?” I often thought. I’m not sure why I had such a negative feeling towards usability people. Maybe it had something to do with the hype of a greatly overpriced self marketer, or perhaps I believed usability is part of a web designer’s job.
It wasn’t until last year when I finally got to work with a usability expert. Seeing him in action gave me a whole new understanding and perspective of what a good usability professional can do. The key word here being “good.” For anonymity’s sake, I’ll refer to him as Bob.
Bob’s role on our team is to gather business requirements from the client, to understand the goal of the web sites we’re building, to conduct interviews with potential users. He then put his analysis in a very thorough report. Next, he creates a wire-frame (plain HTML) mock-up of the site on a conceptual level. He then uses the mock-up to conduct user acceptance tests with potential users and the client. This process repeats a few times until his mock-up meets all the goals.
Essentially, Bob is a great business analyst, a technical writer, a psychologist and a designer combined in one. The benefit of having a usability expert on a team of multiple designers is the efficiency. With Bob focusing on what he does, it frees me and other designers up to focus on more hands-on tasks. He often works with multiple designer’s projects at once. This expedites the turnaround time for projects.
Of course, every web designer should know how to do the whole project process on his/her own. In the web development field today, there are many areas of focus. If you have someone who’s highly specialized in one field, then you get to focus on the areas you excel at. Personally, I’m not very good at writing documentations or sitting in long repetitive meetings.
Have you worked with a usability specialist on your projects before? If so, what’s your experience like?