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The Usability ‘Aha!’ Moment: How to Turn Cynics into Converts

An aha moment or Eureka! concept graphic shows a dark field of question marks surrounding one bright, electric exclamation point.

User Experience (UX) is the comprehensive experience a person has when using a product or application, and usability is the ease of use (or lack thereof) when using it. Many of us have discovered the vast advantages of evaluating usability on our own; however, getting others to jump on board is often a different story.

The most difficult part of integrating an effective UX program in your organization is getting the initial buy-in from developers and stakeholders. You can test a product until the cows come home, but until you get colleagues on board with what you’re trying to accomplish, it could all be for naught.

Usability and the suggestion of user experience is sometimes viewed as an attack on a project instead of a means of improvement. But with the application of good practices, a usability initiative can greatly reduce project costs by decreasing time spent on unnecessary (and unwanted) features of a program. Emphasizing these reductions in time and money is often the key to a successful usability program. (Editor’s note: Usability Case Studies can help too).

In the end, everyone wants what is best for the customer; however, there are differing opinions on how best to determine what it is the customer truly wants and expects from their products. Here are a few simple tips to help guide those usability naysayers in your office towards the light:

1. Encourage Partnership and Coordination

Start by asking your stakeholders what their goals are, who they see as their core user group, and what they see as the most important tasks users should be able to accomplish. Be respectful of the time and effort the group has already put into the project. Show that your goal is to work with the development team, not against them. Stress that incorporating usability into any project plan saves time and money by identifying ways in which their funding can be saved.

2. Choose Your Words Wisely

Use care in selecting the jargon used when describing a usability plan. Refrain from using UX-focused terminology that won’t have a meaningful effect on developers. Use recognizable measurements, such as time on task, scenario success rates, and user satisfaction scores, when describing the types of valuable data that usability testing can provide.

3. Seeing is Believing!

Encourage all of your stakeholders—developers, project leaders, members of management—to observe at least one test session during your usability study. There is no greater eye-opener than watching actual users struggle with an application. It may be difficult for developers to watch, but seeing for themselves is valuable beyond measure. When presenting results of a study, a simple summary presentation in PowerPoint with video clips of specific problem areas drives your point home better than a lengthy, written report.

4. Don’t Make It Personal

When presenting results from your testing, avoid giving personal opinions. Always back suggestions for improvement with test data, reference expert publications, and provide examples of how the suggestions you’re making have worked on other sites. Suggest testing prior to development to avoid having developers get too attached to their efforts. Build models and reach a consensus on the project’s end goal first. The use of paper prototyping, card sorting, and informal hallway tests are great ways to obtain useful data before development begins.

5. Spread the Word

Give a brown bag lecture on the topic of usability and user experience. Show off your skills and teach people within the organization what you’re able to do and how you can help, not hinder, their projects. Stress ways in which usability efforts can save time and money. Give examples of projects that have been improved based on findings from your studies, and/or borrow results from others in the field whose stories of success have influenced you.

Introducing usability to your colleagues may not be the easiest sell, but it can be done. Just a little bit of effort on your part can go a long way towards a strong UX practice at your workplace.Sarah Ward and Deborah Bennett are Information Technology Specialists at the National Library of Medicine.

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