CUA of the Month – December, 2009

Larry Luckom
"In the online banking context, you have to gain the trust of your users. And your users are pretty much everyone."

"Our in-house term for online banking users is 'normal mortals' – normal mortals have to be able to do it without documentation or training. Can they get their work done? Can they do it easily? For financial institutions, usability creates trust."
 
Larry Luckom
Business Analyst
Open Solutions

Leading With Usability: Larry Luckom uses CUA training to put user experience at the front of Open Solutions' application development process

by Douglas Gorney

Bringing the user into the application design cycle as soon as possible – that's Larry Luckom's approach. "Getting a broad range of users for your user specification at the very beginning of the process – product managers, project managers, business analysts, developers, stakeholders, end-users, all those folks – is software development done right," he says. "You want to load the front end of the project."

As a "second-generation" CUA of the Month, Larry would know. He is a business analyst at Open Solutions, a producer of financial applications for the banking industry, where a robust usability program is led by User Experience Director Michael Rawlins. Michael, a former CUA of the Month himself, inspired Larry and 16 other Open Solutions practitioners to become CUAs.

"I ran into Michael early in his tenure at Open Solutions," Larry recalls. "We hit it off right away, and shared many of the same interests and passions around user experience. "The Essentials of Usability" seminar that Michael offered here at Open Solutions is what really hooked me on usability as a discipline. He encouraged me to take the full set of HFI CUA training courses, which he arranged to have given in-house. And that was how I became a CUA."

It turns out that there were a lot of aspects of UX that Larry had been using without being aware of it. "What was great about HFI classes was the way knowledge was pulled together into a coherent discipline, a documented process, and a framework that filled gaps both in my general knowledge and in my skillsets."

Larry and Michael's shared enthusiasm for UX would prove fruitful for Open Solutions. Together the two CUAs developed a lightweight user interface specification that has, if not revolutionized the application development process, greatly empowered and streamlined it.

"We try to apply our User Interface Specification at the beginning of every development effort," explains Larry. "It contains an outline of features and functionality, a set of sequence flows for those features and those functionalities, and wireframes tied to those sequence flows. In the end, it's like a graphic novel – it's very easy to follow, and can be used with a really broad range of audiences."

Larry explains that he and his team pull in as many stakeholders as they can when they launch the application design – product management, the project manager, business analysts, and developers. "We sketch out our initial thinking about what the features are, what the functionality is, what the initial interface should be. One of the takeaways from my HFI courses was that when you're at the very beginning of a user interface design process and you have some directions you'd like to explore, you don't have to come up with a fully finished design before you talk to your stakeholders and end-users. So we've kept the format pretty flexible so that it best expresses a project for a particular type of audience and/or development group," Larry says.

At this initial state, their UI Specification, he explains, is intentionally unfinished – and a touchpoint for rich feedback. "I would never hand off the UI Specification to developers at this stage because it has so many empty spaces. The beauty of that, though, is that during prototype tests, when you ask the classic usability question you learn in HFI courses – "Is this what you expected so see? Oh! What did you expect to see here?" – your usability test subjects fill it in in a way that never would have happened if you had presented a more complete, detailed design."

"It's just been a tremendous boon to our ability to work with different parts of the organization at different stages of the process," he says, "and then to be open to what end-users are telling us they expect to see."

Larry worked with Michael to develop the lightweight UI Specification document in parallel with his CUA training. Pieces of UX knowledge fell into place just as he needed them to put together the structure of the UI Specification for an online banking project he and Michael were working on at the time.

"HFI training made what could be like an esoteric discipline extremely practical and hands on – something that would yield quantitative results that you could use, instead of simply relying on experience and opinion. And CUA certification unquestionably gives you a certain amount of credibility coming through the door. Until I actually had my CUA, I was 'that guy who knows stuff about usability and user interfaces.' But once I had my CUA, I was a CUA – I was that guy who had been trained in a discipline, recognized as having studied that discipline and passed a certification for it."

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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