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Institutionalizing User Experience: Building Usability into Your Organization

Usability sign

So, you have some systems or tools your customers or employees access. Maybe you want to put together a robust capability to conduct usability testing. How do you start formalizing user experience (UX) into your organization? Brad Ludlow at GSA tossed this topic out on the User Experience community listserv, and I’ve encapsulated the superb discussion that followed below. Here, then, are four easy steps to building User Experience into your office:

Step 1: Get buy-in
Learn and share conceptual words on blackboard

First, get a UX champion in your organization. Lay the groundwork with managers, content authors, developers, or anyone else who has a stake in improving user experience. Read books and articles, attend events and webinars, and share your insight with your colleagues. Use what you have learned to show how it benefits your organization. Keep building until you are the office usability expert.

As one UX-pert advised, “Don’t let the naysayers discourage you. You’re likely to run into obstacles from internal stakeholders and even established designers.” Talk it up so word gets to the right people.

Don’t forget you have the Federal UX Community of Practice to help find answers to your questions!

Step 2: Have a strategy

Mobile paper prototype tablet screenshot
Which projects do you think can provide some quick wins to build enthusiasm? Start small, like testing an existing system. Make use of the free usability testing resources at GSA. Then add prototyping in your next research project. Maybe a card sort? How about developing personas? If you’re doing a full-blown test, why not invite observers?

You may need to prove how usability is worth it. Look at the Web analytics and show how your changes made a noticeable improvement.

When you get measurable results, do you have ways to market your successes? Develop your own success stories. You build communications around information campaigns, so don’t sell yourself or usability short in your organization.

If you have gotten buy-in in Step 1 above, consider your overall goals. Do you plan to create an end-to-end user design process, or do you want to start with usability testing, gain steam, and then expand from there?

Step 3: Find resources
Choosing the right person from a group

You have a UX champion and people are slowly learning that usability has some benefits. Your UX workload and portfolio are starting to expand. Now is the time to bring in the troops. Who is doing the work? Is there anyone full-time or part-time devoted this effort? Do you need or have contractor support?

In the right environment, people will gravitate towards UX activities because they are fun and produce results (see Step 1). It can be a powerful magnet for help. At this point, you might look for additional resources if your champion can support it.

Step 4: Keep current with training

Usability training session
Is there a training budget? Can you devote chunks of time or do it piecemeal? Try something new and learn by doing. You can take classes through DigitalGov University and read some books. Shadow someone on a UX team outside your organization.Beth A. Martin is a Usability Lead at the Federal Aviation Administration.

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