CUA of the Month – March, 2009

Maria
"Putting the user at the core of a project and convincing stakeholders of the benefits – that's a really satisfying achievement."
 
Maria José Palacio
User Experience Consultant
Bankinter

A Passion for Usability Pioneering User Experience Design in Spain

by Doug Gorney

"I am passionate about the discipline of user experience," says Maria José Palacio. "As a self-taught person, I have had to be."

Maria José Palacio was hooked on usability the moment she was first exposed to it in 1997 as a team manager at Informática El Corte Inglés, the corporate information technology and communications area of Spain's El Corte Inglés Group. "But user-centered design is still an emerging concept in Spain," she says. Without formal user-centered design training available to her, she had to be resourceful, relying on whatever material she could find. In 2004, she paid for usability courses she found at Open University in her hometown of Madrid. She brought that knowledge – along with CUA certification from HFI – to Bankinter, Spain's sixth-largest bank.

As a pioneer in online banking, Bankinter provided a welcoming environment for the User Experience Consultant. Bankinter was one of the first Spanish banks to build a transactional website. "To this day," Maria José says, "they are more technologically focused, across many channels, than other Spanish banks." That includes a full-time user experience team, part of Bankinter's Internet Group.

The awareness of user experience is still growing at Bankinter, she says, as it is in many Spanish companies, "User-centered design is new in terms of how much it is integrated across the business. We are doing a better and better job of selling products and services with usability. Even though each area of the bank – products, marketing and development – has its own priorities and interests, and sometimes it is hard to change the way other departments work, every area does has enough flexibility to reach consensus."

Maria says the Internet Group's mission is clear: it must put the focus on the user across the bank's online presence and throughout the web development cycle.

"My teammates and I have two very important roles in creating a better experience for our customers," she says. "First, we intermediate to make our current web initiatives as user-centered as possible. Business is business, after all – sometimes you have only three weeks to do a new website. So maybe you can't do user interviews, heuristic evaluations and so forth, but there are still usability tools you can employ."

"Second, and perhaps more important, we are creating the standards and usability criteria that will provide an even better user experience going forward."

Maria José and her team are fulfilling both roles in the mission-critical redesign task on Bankinter's three main websites, for the organization's individual and business customers and its online brokerage. Maria José has already put in five months on changing page layouts to incorporate a higher screen resolution, using the opportunity to create as many other user experience improvements as she could. The project has drawn on the full range of her user experience training, with extensive data-gathering – including user interviews – as well as analysis, use cases, page flow charts and wireframe prototypes.

"One of our biggest challenges is to design a usable interface balancing content for current customers and new ones." To do that, she is leveraging persuasion tools to pull in comparison shoppers and upsell existing Bankinter customers on other bank products.

Feeling that she could enhance the website's emotional design, she went to HFI's website and downloaded a white paper on PET design™ – "Usability Is No Longer Enough," by Dr. Eric Schaffer.

"Reading that paper confirmed that I was in the right direction," says Maria José. "You see, while our site is becoming more and more usable, it's also a little cold. You go to your task, get it done, and get out. If we understand the mood of the user, however, we can capture current customers and comparison shoppers with an emotionally engaging experience, and show them all the things that Bankinter can do for them. So, Dr. Schaffer's white paper turned on a light – gave me confidence that we should really be telling a story to draw the user in."

Maria José wants to use the redesign project to strengthen Bankinter's standard design process. "I have used a lot of usability tools since coming to Bankinter," she says, "and have shown their value to the whole Internet area. The techniques truly keep us focused on the user. Now I want to use personas so that we understand what our users will be coming to these sites for, and what they will be doing when they are there. After the redesign is completed, my hope is that working with these personas will be an integral part of a greater overall focus on the users."

As the most experienced usability consultant on her team, Maria José finds herself training her colleagues in user-centered design as well as recruiting and evangelizing for usability. An avid reader of HFI's user experience literature, "I download all of HFI's articles and white papers, read them, tell my team members about them and sometimes give them summaries in Spanish. I also recommend usability training to my teammates. They are so important to have and hopefully they will be more widely available in Spain soon."

She reflects on her enthusiasm. "You could say I really am passionate about usability. Because your focus is always the online customer, you're helping others with everything you do – improving the user experience, making the interactions richer, making the site more engaging. I can't think of anything more satisfying than that."

Sounds like Maria José's passion is paying big returns for Bankinter.

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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