CUA of the Month – December, 2013

Rajesh Kalidindi
"Whenever I test with the end users on any design, whether a typical information worker, consumer, or someone with special needs, they challenge my assumptions and predictions. That itself increases my passion toward making the software easy to use."
 
Rajesh Kalidindi
Design Researcher
Microsoft

Championing UX for the Impaired

by Jim Garrett

Our CUA of the Month comes from business giant Microsoft. But as we learn from Rajesh Kalidindi, this giant has a heart. Rajesh has been at Microsoft for the past five and a half years, championing user data, accessibility, and design excellence.

Rajesh started at Microsoft as a UX Designer. He quickly transitioned to a full-time research role. As a Design Researcher in the User Experience team for MSIT, Rajesh received an opportunity to lead design and development initiatives required to maintain compliance with Microsoft standards and federal regulations for the impaired. Rajesh works on a daily basis with a team of ten people, including interaction designers, visual designers, and user researchers. He works with a myriad of teams and individuals who work on behalf of implementation efforts and programs which focus on accessibility. He received his CUA certification in 2006.

Where do you function within the vast Microsoft enterprise?

Our division is called Microsoft IT. We support Microsoft internal products and services as well as the infrastructure which tests and supports all the latest products about to be released. The products and services we produce serve the 100,000-plus employees of Microsoft worldwide, covering lines of business applications in Finance, Human Resource, Legal, Help and Support, and more.

What is your role there as a researcher?

My primary responsibility is to represent users in their POV: their needs, desires, response. I observe users and bring all their wants and needs to the business and design teams. My passion is to build empathy toward the users, especially those with disabilities. Accessibility is big part of my job. I seek to bring not only the “average” user needs to bear, but also the needs of those who require additional support, services, and functionality. It is my role to influence the engineering teams — to make sure whatever we build is usable for people of all sorts, including those with impairments.

How do you test for that?

I use various tools to verify all of the accessibility requirements such as a color contrast analyzer, screen readers, etc. We also have usability labs at Microsoft where we test for overall ease of use and product benchmarks, and conduct focus groups and interviews. At times we invite our own employees who have impairments to test our solutions. We also recruit people outside of Microsoft for usability and accessibility testing. We have a dedicated usability lab for doing the accessibility testing. We have all the various assistant technologies, so if a user comes here they have an option to bring their own assisting technologies or they can use our settings in our lab. Windows comes with a default for a few accessibility features. You can access them in Control Panel, Ease of Access Center.

Can you tell us about some of the current projects you’re working on?

At the moment I am working on various products and services for Sales and Marketing, Business Intelligence, and Procurement. I also spend part of every week working on Accessibility evangelism, training, and assessment. My work influences the direction of products, informs design decisions. I draw on feedback from financial analysts, business stakeholders, and information workers who use data and productivity applications heavily.

And where do you come into the picture with your research?

During the pre-envisioning stage, I help project teams to identify their personas, scenarios and XO (Experience Outcomes) that eventually influence the multi-year product roadmap. Once the project is in flight, usability studies and evaluations will influence the design decisions and product experiences. After the product launches, benchmark studies measure top tasks in the experience, which will help set direction for the next version of the product.

What do you think was the most significant thing you learned from CUA training?

Before joining Microsoft, I was a UX consultant. I had to wear multiple hats: sometimes a designer, sometimes researcher, sometimes UX and user evangelist. When I had this role, I felt like I was all over the place. I feel I have gained knowledge and insight about the entire user-centered design process in the training. Before the training, I was more or less picking various tools as needed.  This training helped me to have a framework for the entire user experience life cycle, which improves my planning and methodology selection.

I finished the certification and I did other consulting jobs before I joined Microsoft, but what I can say now after certification, is that good user research and user-centered design is natural to me. It is in my DNA now.

Where do you see yourself continuing in the UX research world?

Users and customers do not need just good looking UI and venues any more. Great UI has to be functional and meet their needs effectively. Users must be able to complete their tasks no matter what software or device they are using.

Research is a key to bringing user needs and desires to businesses, product teams, and designers. Research provides user insight and product recommendations that help them to make right design decisions. We help them focus on supporting task completion. That is the first critical measure of success for the products.

I feel that the research is going to be a very big part of business engagement and success in the coming years. Actually, it is already a big part now. UX research will clearly include customer research and market research, thus providing a holistic view of the market and the user. It may expand into predictive analysis to help envision and influence the future for some products. I see a lot of potential for the UX research field to continue to transform and grow.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Every time I do the evaluations with actual users, it boosts my energy and grows my passion for great design and user empathy. After many years spent with users, sometimes I am tempted to feel that I can mimic users and predict how they will evaluate. But it is not the case, not true. Whenever I test with the end users on any design, whether a typical information worker, consumer, or someone with special needs, they challenge my assumptions and predictions. That itself increases my passion toward making the software easy to use. I’m making these users happy; I’m enabling them to do their job. Moreover, I get excited when I see that people with impairments are having fun with new technology. That’s what drives the passion to continue in this field and also enables me to go to work every day.

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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