CUA of the Month – April, 2010

Brian Mills
"My goals are to communicate and develop a culture of usability awareness and overcome resistance to change."
 
Brian Mills
Senior Content Specialist & Portal
Administrator

Interaction Strategist

by Diane Chojnowski

Brian Mills, CUA, sees it as his mission to be an "interaction strategist."

With a decade of interactive experience in the non-profit, finance, publishing, and travel sectors managing sustainable online communication for several Fortune 500 companies, he has a passion for online strategy.

Before he knew anything about usability, Brian was already seeking to understand how to make websites work. Even in his first job in publishing, he remembers starting with the home page and working out where users should go from there, "We were designing user flows for our site and figuring out how to group the content so that it made sense. It was a basic version of a card sorting exercise, although I didn't know anything about that at the time. I was simply developing ways to make the site work better."

Originally in the non-profit sector, Brian joined the corporate world as a lone warrior between marketing and IT, designing user flows for a consumer-facing site at Merrill Lynch. Later, at Citigroup, he applied his skills to develop and maintain a rewards program site for its customers.

After consulting to The Home Depot and The Coca-Cola Company, Brian now develops content and experiences for the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) intranet, serving more than 330,000 employees worldwide, including corporate and hotel employees.

"Our intranet has a de-centralized governance that empowers employees to publish and edit information. This is becoming more common among corporate intranets as the Internet evolves and becomes increasingly social, utilizing networks of interaction. My goals are to communicate and develop a culture of usability awareness and overcome resistance to change, both with the people in the trenches who don't necessarily have the greatest degree of technical acumen as well as with the people who have greater technical expertise."

With three different global regions and a minimum of six overlapping audiences: people in the hotels, people in the corporate world, managers, non-managers, publishers, and readers, it's a challenge to develop a unified intranet platform that satisfies all their different needs. Brian is currently part of a team developing a new central intranet platform which not only communicates and educates, but also provides new methods for knowledge sharing.

"The next version of the platform will incorporate much of what we've learned regarding usability best practices such as a visual guides, standards, and metrics, to take our intranet to the next level. With any corporate intranet, employees have an expectation from their experiences with other websites that leads them to desire features from Google, Facebook, Apple, etc., and our team strives to integrate the best features into our new platform."

Brian is also working on a project evolving English-language product pages to be appropriate for international audiences. This project presents unique challenges in developing interactions for several languages and key regional dialects. One example would be redesigning the existing English product pages to compensate for differences in height and width as well as for orientation for Arabic translations.

"Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages," said Brian, "utilize double byte characters. So, these languages will take up twice as much space as the original page design. The challenge is to reverse engineer the product pages so they will work in a variety of languages."

"Now, we can apply the lessons learned about working with websites in different languages to other opportunities in similar projects. We know, for instance, that certain designs work better from a user experience standpoint for users reading Japanese and other designs are more functional for users reading Arabic. Beyond that, is the fact that we're making this work not only for the user, but also for the publishers editing the content."

"The biggest challenge right now is that we have a number of publishers who speak very few languages and yet are responsible for maintaining the sites in many languages and have very tight timelines. They need to have an application that allows them to get into the site, make the changes, and get out, both quickly and seamlessly."

"In my eyes, usability is critical to achieving true communication," said Brian. "I tend to look at it from a marketing perspective – to first determine the message and then communicate that message to an audience in such a way that the message resonates and creates the desired reaction. Usability is the way to facilitate that process."

Brian was very inspired by what he learned in the CUA certification courses. He said, "I've had nothing but great experiences with HFI. The training courses were a critical stepping stone in my professional development. I'll be honest... the certification exam was more challenging than I expected it would be. And I was pleased by that. I figured – 'open book test... I did the training... I've done this stuff myself...' – I really had to earn it, and I found that rewarding."

"What I learned from the CUA courses was how to better communicate usability practices to a multitude of audiences with different levels of technical ability, as well as to different global constituencies. I took that to heart by developing intranet training principles and creating a comprehensive overview of what usability is, why it matters, what we can do with it at IHG. This awareness will save everybody time AND money. These are key factors in challenging economic times, especially in the hospitality industry."

"There are statistical models in the CUA track which augment website metrics that are useful for showing ROI over time for corporate intranets. Our current metrics are not quite where I want them to be and I'm confident that using the processes and formulas from the CUA course will be useful for showing year-to-year ROI for our sites. With corporate intranets, as opposed to consumer-facing sites, it's often more challenging to demonstrate ROI. Better metrics indicate how we save time and money by improving user experience. Once you gain that kind of momentum, it just keeps growing and growing."

Brian has practical advice for UX professionals, "Always ask how we can be more user-oriented and service-minded. What can we do to help people better express their ideas? I think those are key questions for any usability professional because it's all about empathy. It's about being able to see the world through another person's eyes. And, with globalization, that becomes all the more critical as the world becomes a smaller place."

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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