by Jim Garrett
Our Certified Usability Analyst of the Month for May, Jennifer Gracey, comes from the international consulting firm Sogeti. Jennifer is based in the Des Moines, Iowa office and is in the unique situation that within her company she is part of a coordinated, international network of HFI Certified Usability Analysts.
Sogeti is one of the world's leading providers of IT consulting services. As a member of the Capgemini Group, one of the world's largest consulting services companies, Sogeti has local branches in twenty-three cities in the U.S. and 20,000 experts worldwide in fifteen countries.
At Sogeti what is your title?
I’m a senior consultant and I focus on the area of user experience. I’m the only HFI Certified Usability Analyst in the Des Moines office, but we have several other consultants who are also usability evangelists. We’re an international company so we have Certified Usability Analysts all over the country and all over the world. We’re a big proponent of the usability aspect and being able to sell that to our clients.
Do you interface with these other Certified Usability Analysts and coordinate with them?
Yes, we have coordinated on some client presentations and some pitches. We also have an online community of Sogeti employees from around the world and we have a group dedicated to usability where we can share resources. Our group is open to everyone, not just CUA’s, but anybody that works as a usability type person that does design, development and is interested in usability. If we find a really good resource, we’ll share it and it brings us all together even though we might be halfway around the world from each other.
What is your primary role with your usability work there?
Usually it’s more as a front end designer designing the user experience. A recent project was a data warehousing project where we were doing a three-year road map for a large company and they had me come on as a business analyst. My usability background really helped with that because I needed to gather a lot of information from many different people and figure out how the people and all of the applications interact with this massive database where years worth of company data is stored.
I was able to gather the requirements and document the current state of this large database and how the users interact with it so the skills that I learned in the HFI courses about interviewing techniques, surveying and gathering information really came in handy on that project.
What current projects are you working on?
The project that I’m on currently is more related to usability and we’re actually having two to three sessions a week to redesign a web application. We’re doing a lot of wireframing, white boarding, and story boarding and capturing the UI requirements. Then we put together wireframes and do task flow analysis to figure out what their current work flow is and what their work flow should be in the future with the new system. We’re going to make it more efficient for the users that own the product. Even though they are not technical people, they will still be able to update the data and utilize the site for years to come to perform their jobs more efficiently.
So what’s your process for making it user friendly for the users?
My process is basically to understand what their current work flow looks like and how they’re currently performing their jobs. Then I interview the users to figure out how we can use technology effectively and efficiently to complete the work flow process. On my current project, the users are doing a lot of their work in spreadsheets and they’re maintaining a massive number of spreadsheets with all of these different policies in them. So it’s good to put it all online and have some business rules around it. With a spreadsheet you don’t have those business rules, so we’re documenting those business rules as we go through the task flow analysis.
What attracted you to UX?
I think the thing that attracted me the most to UX was the ability to be creative yet not pick up a paint brush or be a graphic designer per se but the ability to come up with creative ideas and solutions to problems. The usability issues that people have with websites or applications that make you think outside the box is the the biggest thing that I enjoy. It is the ability to be creative and find solutions.
In your HFI training what was it that stood out for you that seemed to be the most significant?
I would say one of the things that I really took away from the courses was the ability to have the resources on hand. I have some solid research to show why something should be designed a certain way and why it should function a certain way. Then matching the user’s mental model and being able to have the research to back up and say this is what the mental model looks like is so helpful when talking with a client.
HFI has this great little chart I could pull out and it was essentially like an eye tracking chart or a heat map of where users expected the shopping cart to be on an e-commerce website. It also showed where users expected the navigation to be, where they expected the logout button to be, where they expected the most important elements of the page to be placed. Being able to pull out a resource like that and show to your business user that owns that project the research and say this is why we need to design the e-commerce site in this manner makes the creative process so much easier. This is why we need to design the e-commerce site in this manner, because this is what the research tells us that our users are expecting. This type of research is extremely invaluable.
Also being able to negotiate the different climates that you might walk into as a consultant where there might be varying levels of adoption of usability and UX, having that research to back you up goes a long way rather than just “Oh, we should design it like this.”
Is there knowledge from the HFI training you’re applying to your current work and projects?
Definitely! I would say everything new that I learned or existing knowledge that was reinforced in HFI training. After many years of being a web designer making mistakes and learning the hard way how to design things, how not to design, it just reinforced the fact that I’m not the only one that’s made made mistakes in the past and now I can actually say this is a best practice with confidence.
And for your users?
I got some really good feedback from the insurance company that I’m at right now. The users are really enjoying the process because we make it fun. Sometimes I know their brains probably hurt a little bit as we make them think about what-if scenarios. We go over high impact scenarios, what are the main tasks that need to be completed and what if it does this instead of this.
The users have been really excited about it because they’re seeing it come together on white boards and then they’re seeing it come together in wireframes and pretty soon they’ll be seeing an actual working site. So it’s getting them into the design process really early and having them think about their own experience rather than just tell us what they want. We’ll go off and build it and then six weeks later we’ll bring it back and show it to them. It’s a nice way to get them fully engaged in the process early and keep them engaged in the development process so they feel a true sense of ownership when the project is finished. And they’ll feel good knowing they had a hand in helping to design their experience.
Does having your network of CUAs around the world put you on a common ground, a common language to communicate with?
Definitely, we can communicate with our Sogeti online community and send each other messages where we’re all using the same language which is really nice. One of the cool things that HFI puts together is the glossary of the different terms that are used and this is a great resource for any UX person, any designer or developer that works with designing interfaces.
Regardless of whether you got your certification in 2008, or you are working on your certification now, itís definitely bringing us all to a different level. It’s also a great thing that we can sell to our clients that we do have a base of UX talent. Essentially we can bring talent from anywhere in the United States or even overseas to work on a client project. We can definitely boast that we have Certified Usability Analysts in our organization, which is a huge resource of credentialed professionalism that is a strong selling point to our clients.