CUA of the Month – December, 2012

Asea Ginsburg
"Usability is the ocean that fills the gap between design and development, and an umbrella that covers everything in between and beyond."
Asea Ginsburg
Principal, Creative Director,
Arigam Strategies

User Centered Design as a Business Model

by Jim Garrett

When Asea Ginsburg started her own consulting firm, she wanted to put usability at the core of all the services the company was offering. That company, Arigam Strategies, specializes in design and web development. It serves customers in government agencies, associations, commercial entities, and the non-profit sector.

Asea’s career path began in computer science, which inspired her to go into web design and development. After working in the web industry for several years, she pursued a second degree in graphic design, where she studied print design and traditional marketing. Asea then expanded into being a front end web developer and designer and went on to study traditional graphic design and marketing.

In her career, she has been everything from production artist, front-end developer, Drupal themer, to creative director. With all of that, along with being a user experience professional, Asea has a grasp of all aspects of the creative process, development, and user experience.

At what point did you become interested in usability?

“I have always been curious about how people interact with an interface and whether or not what we design is actually helping users to perform their tasks. So my interest in usability stems from my desire to know what works and what doesn’t — why it doesn’t work and how we can make it better.

“I have been in this business for over a decade, but about 7 years ago I had to do my first set of wireframes. I remember making certain decisions based more on best practices and quantitative data, and less on qualitative testing. Since then, I’ve had my hands in everything: designing usability tests, creating site maps, building high fidelity prototypes, and performing small usability tests.

“My role has always been to educate clients as well as internal and external teams about the importance of designing for the user. But, the conversation would always lead to: ‘Why do we have to make that design change? What does it mean?’ No matter what the reason was, the answer would always come down to usability somehow,” said Asea.

How did you get connected to HFI CUA training?

“I have been fortunate enough to work for companies that valued usability and understood its importance. At a previous job, my boss asked me if I was interested in taking HFI training. I looked at the website and decided to take CUA classes, thinking they would help me grow usability as a practice at our company.

“As I was brainstorming ideas for a path to take in starting my own business, and even as an independent professional, the one element that was never in question was usability.

“In the last several years, I have noticed that large organizations, non-profits, tradeshows, and even commercial businesses all started to realize the importance of usability. Larger organizations that have the budget would implement a user-centered design approach.

“Smaller companies, on the other hand, who could really benefit from user-centered design (UCD), can’t afford it because no one talks about how to do usability activities on a shoestring budget. This is the exact reason why I decided to take HFI training and become a CUA. It is an amazingly informative 4-class course that teaches everything one needs to know about UCD. CUA courses teach you about ROI and how to explain the value of user-centered design to clients. Once clients actually understand the value of user experience, they are always on board with it.

“This is exactly why I decided to integrate usability into every service my company provides and why I decided to finish the CUA track. I took the remaining classes this year and became certified last month,” explained Asea.

Was there one specific thing you learned in training that stood out for you?

“Before I took the CUA courses, I had been asking myself — where does user-centered-design and usability fit as a whole? Whose responsibility is it? Who should be the UX champion? Most importantly, how do you scale it up or down? How do you make it affordable for organizations that have limited budgets? Working with internal teams, all these questions are very important and often take center stage in many conversations. CUA courses helped me find answers to all these questions and opened up a lot of different scenarios for me. I was able to put things in perspective,” offered Asea.

What have you been able to apply in your work from the training?

“Pretty much everything — and I’m not exaggerating. Before taking the HFI training, I would always look at a project from a design perspective, from a coding perspective, from a search engine optimization perspective. And every single decision was always based on best practices. But using these methods, you can do only so much, until you realize you need data from real users. Now I’m able to look at it from a user perspective.

“With every step I take, whether it is with a client or internal conversation with my co-workers, I enhance my work by creating personas and using scenarios, tasks and workflows. This way, I’m making it more specific to users, which in turn helps meet business goals with better accuracy,” explained Asea.

So it’s given you a different point of view and orientation to the way you approach a project?

“Exactly. Years ago, I remember thinking: ‘We’re making these design changes, but why? What value does it give to us as a business and to the user?’ I always felt that there was a gap between design and development, and I believe usability is the ocean that fills that gap and an umbrella that covers everything in between and beyond,” said Asea.

Is your work more satisfying now?

“Without question. The most satisfying moment is when you perform a usability test and you hear things like: ‘Wow, this is so easy, so intuitive.’ We did usability testing for one of the websites that was designed for a public library for teenagers. Generally speaking, it is very difficult to design something for teens, something they would use on regular basis. During usability testing, one of the kids said, ‘This is so cool without trying to be cool.’ It made me feel very satisfied with the results, and most importantly, it confirmed that the decisions we made up to that point were accurate and really reached the demographic we were targeting,” offered Asea.

Have you seen feedback response and satisfaction from your customers?

“For those who do understand the value of UX, the feedback has been phenomenal,” said Asea.

Has the HFI training helped you educate those who don’t understand usability and UX?

“One hundred percent. Listening to people in my class talk about their experience and the way they approach certain situations was very helpful. Doing group exercises, where you get to do a wide range of activities pertaining to the usability practice, helped me narrow down the specifics of what exactly I wanted to do.

Is your work more satisfying now?

“In the end, I believe usability should be integrated seamlessly throughout the entire process, whether you are designing online experience, a website, or a mobile app, or creating something for offline distribution. Brands are all around us, and no matter where we go, we interact with them on daily basis. The quality of our interactions depends on the user experience of the brand. It should be an organic part of the process,” explained Asea.

What is your vision for the future?

“My vision is to create products that have real and measurable impact on users. What HFI helped me understand is that CUA training answers questions such as ‘Is this interface easy to use and can users perform their tasks successfully?’

But there is much more to it. We should care about user experience as whole, not just usability as a small component. User experience impacts overall branding and product positioning; it affects the way customers view your product and whether they like it or not. CXA training from HFI teaches you how to design for emotion, persuasion and trust. It teaches you how to create designs that have real, bulletproof impact on customers and affect their decision making. It comes down to what all companies want: making customers fall in love with their brand and come to them without having to ask, thus converting them into loyal users.

“And how do you make somebody love your brand? This is exactly what I hope my company, Arigam Strategies, will help its clients accomplish.”

What would you say to someone thinking of taking the CUA training?

“Take is as soon as you can, no matter what you do: marketing, design or development. The CUA track from HFI really puts things in perspective. Regardless of whether you are part of a small company or a large organization, your work probably touches on the user experience or usability one way or the other. You simply can’t lose taking the CUA track,” concluded Asea.

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

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