Sunday, July 08, 2007

Technology’s Untanglers: They Make It Really Work

Usability profession reaches popular media ...

"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, whose 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."    (Continued via New York Times)    [Usability Resources]

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