CUA of the Month – February, 2013

Amy Bogatch
"Our cafeteria is one of the best places to do usability testing. Not only can you grab people, but you can feed them too."
 
Amy Bogatch
Information Architect
AXA Equitable

Usability in a Changing World - From the Voice of Experience

by Jim Garrett

This month’s Certified Usability Analyst (CUA) gives a perspective on usability in a changing world only an experienced pro can give. Amy Bogatch started her journey as a user experience professional in the 1990s at AT&T. She then continued her path of gaining usability knowledge and experience at MetLife and Sony Electronics.

She received her Human Factors International CUA certification in 2008 and then joined AXA Equitable several years later as Senior Manager of User Experience. AXA Equitable is a leading financial protection company and one of the nation’s premier providers of life insurance, annuity, and financial products and services. AXA Equitable is part of the global AXA Group, a worldwide leader in insurance and asset management, with 101 million clients in 57 countries as of December 31, 2011.

Amy’s usability work at AXA Equitable has the potential to affect AXA Equitable employees, financial professionals and customers. We wanted to glean from this impressive span of experience what changes Amy has seen and what she views is yet to come in the field of usability. We also were curious how the CUA training could benefit a person of such depth of experience. Here’s Amy’s story.

With your experience and perspective of all the changes over the years, what do you think is the most significant change in the field of usability?

The first round of major change was moving from a list of links on a website to creating a real user experience. Do you remember when you’d come to a page and it would just be a list of links? So from a list of links to an experience has been a significant change.

Search engines were becoming stronger and stronger and sending people deeper and deeper into your website, so you couldn’t just put a list of links on your website. You actually had to design your site so that no matter where the person landed they had a good experience. I remember at first it seemed overwhelming, I thought: "How do you even accomplish that?"

In the mid 1990s I was already doing usability studies and focus groups. I traveled the United States for AT&T to gather requirements and to understand what people needed. So my history with user experience goes back quite a way.

Another big transition is mobile. All decisions have to consider mobility. We were looking into certain controls for websites and wondering how to do an on / off scenario. And all the controls are very geared for on/ off controls but now are geared to swiping your finger! You can’t do that on a desktop!

How do you see usability entering in that picture with that sort of change?

I’m using informal usability a lot more than I’ve used in the past 5 years. Getting true user reactions to all of the new concepts is so helpful and important. I can’t work in a vacuum; I have to make sure that what I perceive as easy really is easy. With that on / off switch for example, I pulled together my team and a group of business users. Each time I said OK, when you see this what do you think? And I went through a mini-usability test for that little on / off switch. You find yourself doing that with more and more of these elements where mobile and desktop are kind of overlapping each other.

Do you think this is where the industry is going? Is this the future?

This is definitely going to be the future. It’s where you can take your information with you wherever you go in a fashion that is convenient and very, very mobile.

Has your CUA training helped you in this latest phase of mobile development?

Tremendously. Actually I’m working on my CXA right now. I’ve done two of the classes and I’m looking forward to the PET classes this year. The CXA classes — the institutionalization and the designing for the big — have helped me in working with my leadership. Our leadership has made digital technology a strategic focus for 2013-2014. When they say digital, they’re actually talking about taking processes that formerly were not online and moving them online — less paper and more accessibility.

So first of all it’s talking to them and making them aware of what’s involved in something like this. All of us on the team are actually CUA certified and we hope to be CXA certified by the end of next year. And it does make a difference; you can feel it in what we do. We’re professionals; we’ve got that scientific method. It’s the science of user experience. As a team, we approach it as a science with no emotion — there’s the PET, there is that emotion but when you’re justifying something to a developer, for example, they aren’t just interested in what color I like. They want to understand why that color makes a difference in the user experience. A respect for, and understanding of a scientific approach to user experience is what HFI instilled in us.

I would assume it is critical for AXA Equitable customers to have ease of use for their accounts when their personal finances are involved?

Ease of use is absolutely important. It helps builds trust. People work hard for their money and they should be able to access information about their accounts as conveniently as possible.

What is the makeup of your team?

We’re actually six people on the team including our manager. A colleague and I are on the User Centered Design team, serving as usability experts. We do usability because we have the CUA training and because we’re working on the CXA certification. Otherwise the company would have taken usability out of the UCD team and hired consultants to do it. Our CUA certification and work experience created the ability for AXA Equitable to manage the usability experience in-house.

The CUA certification is very important. In fact I was recruited for this position through a search for CUA certification.

No kidding?

No kidding at all. She said she did a search for CUA certification and found me on Monster, and asked if I was interested in a job. I was, and I love my job, so I’m happy.

What kind of suggestion/recommendation would you give someone considering taking the CUA?

I actually had that conversation with a young man I was mentoring this summer. He’s doing a Master's in Human-Computer Interactions.

One of the things I said to him was no matter what you’re doing in school you have to get your HFI certification. In today’s world certification is meaningful. I would consider the HFI certification on the same level as getting an MBA for a businessperson. First of all it’s recognizable. People recognize it and respect it. It gives you a real, professional foundation. That’s what it did for me. It’s a validation and it’s also just plain fun. I love what I do!

What do you see your role for the future?

Because it is so time consuming to do a full formal test, I envision an increase in informal testing happening. For example, if we design a mobile app we’d grab an iPad and run around on the floor and say, "try this" and "try that." With mobile it gets so easy.

That’s a whole different laboratory, isn’t it?

Oh it is! Our cafeteria is one of the best places to do usability testing. Not only can you grab people but you can feed them, too. That's efficient!
Once, at AT&T, we set up three usability stations in the cafeteria. We would just walk around grab somebody, sit them down and asked if they wouldn’t mind giving us 5 minutes of their time. We even got leadership involved in the test because the CIO and the CEO would come down to have their lunch so we grabbed them too.

I would imagine it made the executives get connected to the whole process and see what you’re doing.

Exactly. And not only did we get feedback, but they asked us to keep them in the loop on how it goes! It enhanced their engagement in the process and the project. Can you tell I love my work?

CUA of the Month

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