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usability as a career?

So the resume/career discussions make this seem an opportune time to post:

I'm a recent CS grad.  I like software development a lot -- enjoy coding, enjoy the entire process of making things work correctly, really like comprehensive design.  BUT, what really interests me is usability.  Making things that my mom could use at her job without hating coming to work.  Making applications that neither confuse nor intimidate people, yet are powerful enough to actually get things done.  I've found the ACM HCI special interest group, and have been reading a lot on usability.  But, the question remains, how do I turn this into a career?  I've been told that I have an aptitude for it, but I think that I need to learn a lot more and gain experience.  Before I do, I want to know what I'm working towards.  Does anyone know of non-academic positions that concentrate on usability or the education/work-experience paths needed to get there?

Thanks for any ideas or feedback.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

I unfortunately have no advice for you, but I wish you luck.  I also wish that you worked for the manufacturer of the DVD recorder I just bought.

Adam N
Wednesday, January 28, 2004

User Interface Design Career.

Heck, be a project manager.

Hey, Joel talked about it once or twice:

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Nielsen ( you must probably know him ) tells you how:

I don't have exact figures, but unless you want to work for a really big company ( IBM, Microsoft, etc. ), I haven't seen any usability experts in any of the projects I've done, except for a banking company. If you care about the usability and the look-and-feel of the application, most of the time the other programmers will be inconsistent with your logic/scheme/skin and you will end up frustrated ( like me... ) Also, your boss might say to spend your energies on the "important" stuff, and so what if the application only uses a obscure command line interface, we had to ship for yesterday after all!

In the banking company I've worked, the UI people consisted of an artist ( look-and-feel ) and a psychologist ( usability ). This might be other fields of study to achieve your goal.

Eric V.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Maybe look at things like Industrial Design, that kind of thing also. People like frog, perhaps ( ) - you've seen the work they do, maybe you would be suited to a design technologist job?

On the other hand - are you at all artistic? It might be a big plus. Although, given people like Nielsen, it doesn't seem to be a big barrier if you're not :)

It very much seems like the industry is quite immature in that particular field, there aren't usually specialist personnel for that. Maybe there should be of course. Information architecture is another field that you should look at in many ways. Try having a browse around AIFIA ( ).

Andrew Cherry
Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Useability is a tough thing to sell. It's difficult to quantify how much more useable you can make something and how much $$ that will make/save the company.

And  lot of people like to do it.

Tom Peters, in the forword to "The Design of Everyday Things" said "Design (useability) may be the last competitive advantage the US has" (I'm paraphrasing).

I think he's right.

The problem is that the company REALLY needs to be committed. 

It's actually amazing to me how much effort companies put into testing stuff but how little effort they seem to put into real useability.  I participated in an Intel study for a software developer's website.  They spent a lot of time and money measuring different types of websites. I didn't find a big difference between any of them.

The real Entrepreneur
Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Most projects I've been on during my 12 year corporate career devolve into an IT implementation-- virtually everything revolves around the software development process at the company.

This phenomena is usually terrible for usability--- IT folks (in general) tend to look at it as a huge risk factor to a project. The last thing IT wants is some usability expert coming in with "loosey-goosey" techniques adding time to a project, and possibly telling them that they need to redo significant parts of the presentation layer.

Sometimes they'll throw you a bone and permit a quick and dirty heuristic evaluation, as long as they're reassured at the end that they can ignore any negative findings or push remedies to some future "dot release." You'll also inevitably hear the pathetic excuse,"this behavior/interface comes standard out-of-the-box in this uber-mega-corporate-platform and we're under strict orders not to create any custom code."

Even if you work for a boutique design firm, the ones that typically promote usability and information architecture, they're under the same pressures. They'll often gloss-over usability problems that undermine designs that survived through dozens of reviews with capricious marketing leads.

If you really like usability & human factors, you should still go for it. When you get a chance to play the role of a first-class team member it can be very rewarding.

Before taking a job, make sure you find out plenty about the way projects are managed at the prospective employer. In many corporate environments, you'll find that they may understand the benefits of testers and software testing, and even documentation, but it's likely that they don't give a rat's bum about user-centered design.

Good luck.

Likes long walks, short piers
Wednesday, January 28, 2004

It's a field where you make your own mark if you have aptitude.

Watch out for professional landmines. Psychology and psychologists think the field should belong to them and will try to undermine someone coming from a CS background, without any valid reason. (Good design is a talent and is not imparted by any particular degree.)

I like beaches
Wednesday, January 28, 2004


Microsoft invests quite a bit in Usability.  The usability engineers here do paper prototypes, user walkthroughs, site visits, etc...

For a description of the roles, have a look at this page:

Good Luck!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

> Microsoft invests quite a bit in Usability

So who was responsible for Clippy? I mean, for years I have wanted to kill Clippy in the most horific ways possible, but I think I am misdirecting my anger. We want names and addresses, damn it!

And knives. Big shiny ones.
Thursday, January 29, 2004

> People like frog

Only covered in chocolate :-)

Actually I was looking at their website. Very slick, I must say. Then I read that they were involved in SAP.

Oh. My. God.

"Included in the SAP R/3 design language were more than 1600 icons."

Tell me about it. I still have no idea what any of them mean.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Hey everyone who wrote back:

Thanks for the ideas, and especially for the site links.  At this point I'm mostly just reading like crazy and trying to figure out what the name of the field even is... (program managers frequently have heavy business and marketing responsibilities, any sort of "designer" seems to be more focused on making proposals and sketches than actually using them in real life/gauging feedback...)  I know that it's a fairly underutilized field and that it's still quite small, but I am quite intrigued by what I know of it, so thanks for the help!  :-)


Thursday, January 29, 2004

(blank) - yes i know - frogdesign have done some really good stuff, but the SAP thing may count as a bit of an off day...

Andrew Cherry
Thursday, January 29, 2004

Hi Susan!  Like you, I'm interested in creative UI and am always looking for articles or books on the subject (that's how I found JoS).  I've found my niche through being the Web Dev and a novice programmer who kept making UI suggestions during software meetings.  Eventually I was named Lead UI Designer (a title created so I could study usability and the psycology of UI without being blasted by the CFOs).  Unfortunately, everyone who has posted here is correct - it sounds like a good idea at the time, but programmers usually don't want to mess with it.  After multiple days of software testing and taking notes, I presented my UI suggestions to programmers who appeared to be grateful and ready to make the changes... Two months later, 99% are still in my notes.  Oh well, being a Web Dev is pretty cool too.  Good luck and let me know if you find something!

LB, bka WebChick
Thursday, January 29, 2004

I work for a company which has a formal usability lab with four senior level IT analysts who operate the lab.  It is considered a career at my company.

Friday, January 30, 2004

may I ask which company?

Friday, January 30, 2004

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