CUA of the Month – February, 2010

Benjamin Ho
"FIND THE TRUTH! You can't find the truth if you doctor your data. It's important to obtain the data and use that to drive your design decisions. That's my core belief."
Benjamin Ho
User Experience Analyst
Tyler Technologies

It's About the Total User Experience

by Diane Chojnowski

Benjamin Ho started out at Tyler Technologies as a Usability Analyst. But at Tyler, they're not just looking at usability anymore. Now, "it's about the total user experience" and his role has expanded – he's now a User Experience (UX) Analyst.

Named by Forbes as "One of America's 200 Best Small Companies," Tyler Technologies provides software solutions for the public sector. Serving local government entities, all of their applications focus on providing the most effective user experience to help users achieve their goals – to be more efficient, more accessible, and more responsive to the needs of citizens.

Ben's background provided the perfect foundation for his work in UX design. He graduated from Carleton University in the Industrial Design program. While at Carleton, he was involved in a project developing a ground control system for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for the Canadian Coast Guard, testing the feasibility of UAVs to patrol the maritime seaways for pollution. Ben worked with engineers who designed and developed a model of the UAV and took part in developing the system and hardware necessary to control the vehicle. He facilitated focus groups and did user testing and prototyping to design a touch-screen interface. This project was the catalyst for Ben moving into the field of usability.

"Industrial design deals with hard products. Because of the special nature of the Coast Guard project, I became focused on user interface design and not so much the industrial design. With all the new developments in software and applications, it looked like a better opportunity to get into designing for software."

"Some people have been pushed into usability. You hear different stories from people about how a need for someone to do something at their company pushed them into usability. I chose this path as a natural extension of my background in industrial design because it too dealt with human factors."

One of the most important things Ben has learned about UX design is to let the data speak for itself. "I can't tell you how many times we have been designing or testing something and we have a belief about it that is so strong we are tempted to skew the results to come up with a recommendation, when all of the sudden, we find out it's about something else. FIND THE TRUTH. You can't find the truth if you doctor your data. It's important to obtain the data and use that to drive your design decisions. That's my core belief.

"User experience encapsulates everything: information architecture, usability testing, and interaction design. It's the product lifecycle for the actual user. It's being misunderstood the same way usability itself has been misunderstood. UX design is about designing to solve a problem – not just creating good visual design, but also developing a framework to guide users to easily accomplish their tasks. What I've learned is that you can't really control the behavior of the user, but you can design the framework around it to influence the behavior."

Ben was introduced to CUA certification by a co-worker. "I found that HFI was quite good at presenting the foundational knowledge in a clear message. There were parts where I knew a few of the concepts and had part of the knowledge, but I didn't know how to express it. That's where CUA certification really helped me. Now, I am building experience on the foundation of solid knowledge. CUA certification definitely gives credibility. Within our company there are other CUAs, and now even development acknowledges the credibility of the CUA program.

"Our UX team at Tyler is committed to evangelizing usability within our company. Last year, with the help of Greg Savard, the head of Technology Research and our UX team, we started a user experience group including other departments: sales, marketing, documentation, development, QA and implementation. We have at least one representative from each department contributing to the vision of our personas project. The awareness of usability and UX design within Tyler has greatly increased because of this group. We need this awareness in order to build usability in from the beginning of the project. As the saying goes, 'Test early and test often.'"

"This year we had our first World Usability Day event which was very well received. We did two sessions, one was an overview of UX and the other was a workshop on the mechanics of personas, contextual inquiry, and validation with usability testing, as well as how to build a mental model. These workshops really raised the awareness of UX issues throughout the company. It's not just about features any more but about getting the holistic picture and modeling and developing based on user context.

Ben co-chairs a local chapter of IxDA (Interaction Design Association) and he is an active blogger on UX design topics on CUA Central. "One of the reasons I blog a lot is so that I can share things I've learned. I hope those blogs help catalyze discussions within the UX community and contribute to the evolution of the field of user experience.

Ben has some advice for fellow UX professionals. "Be extremely flexible in the methods you choose in any part of validation and UX design. Know that not one situation is always the same."

CUA of the Month

Each month we highlight the successes and achievements of a different member of our CUA community. If you are a Certified Usability Analyst and would like to be considered for CUA of the Month recognition, please send a brief professional bio to hfi@humanfactors.com

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