CUA of the Month – October, 2008

Chris Fletcher
"My HFI training keeps me focused on everything I'm doing today. From understanding users and developing scenarios to just the simple things – early usability testing and user focus."
Senior Product Designer
Election Systems and Software (ES&S)

Election industry casts its vote for usability

by Susan Seifert

The next time you vote, there's a good chance your ballot will be tabulated on a system designed by CUA Christopher "Fletch" Fletcher. He's a Senior Product Designer at Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the world's largest manufacturer and most experienced provider of automated voting systems and comprehensive support services.

A self-described usability evangelist, Fletch calls his move into the election industry "the most exciting foray I've had during the last 15 years." He explains, "It helps a broader audience – and quite honestly is an industry that has a great complexity and need."

Those who remember the 2000 American Presidential election will heartily agree. The infamous "Butterfly Ballot" confused Florida voters, leading to a series of controversial recounts. This delayed the outcome of the election for over a month – and may have altered the final outcome.

The fiasco turned a spotlight on the election industry, prompting the creation of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The EAC drafted new usability and accessibility guidelines for voters, election officials, and poll workers, providing a golden opportunity for Fletch. He was hired by ES&S because of his CUA qualification and experience.

"There was no question that I was able to jump right in and interpret these standards and guidelines because of my HFI training," Fletch says. "One of the primary reasons I joined ES&S is that they get that. My boss wanted somebody who could bring a user-centered design process to the table. As the government reacts to new technologies with legislation, we need to be grounded in the fundamentals of the voting process," Fletch says

"As we move between paper and electronic solutions we need to keep our focus on the processes as our initial design plans. Only then can we make the appropriate adjustments for the specific technology."

Designing voting systems presents special challenges because of the enormous variety of voters across such diverse jurisdictions.

"This industry presents the most unique requirements I've come across," Fletch explains. "Most people believe that if we want to test voting, we just go grab anybody. But there are specific, representative users, and we need to understand that. There are more women than men voting in this country. Certain age groups translate to unique voting needs. People with disabilities vote. From visually impaired people, to those with cognitive disabilities, all voters must have access to voting without discrimination."

Fletch focuses on the entire election process, not just the technology. "Although the perception is that the equipment is the problem, we often find it's the inability to use it correctly," he explains. "Safe, secure and accurate solutions are not enough; they must be usable as well," Fletch says.

Fletch's interest in user-centered design began in 1995 at the multimedia firm he started. He was designing a recruiting solution for a local school to use at parent-student day. "We looked at it, and all the information for parents and students kept bouncing back and forth," Fletch recalls. "It didn't make sense and it didn't flow."

When Fletch brought in students and parents for evaluation, he had the first of many "light bulb" moments. "We realized that parents and students have very different goals," he says. Parents focused on academics and curriculum, whereas students wanted a school that was "cool." The solution: separate presentations on two computers displayed side-by-side. "That was really kind of eye-opening. If we focus on the primary users goals we design better solutions. Wow, what a concept!"

Fletch moved on to Web design and a number of high-profile firsts early in his career, such as designing the website for Omaha Steaks, one of the first commercial sites to accept credit cards. He was also recognized by PC World's "Best Free Stuff Online" for his design of the American Business Information's Yellow Pages Directory.

Before joining ES&S, Fletch worked at a Midwestern insurance company where there was not much support for usability. Management did not distinguish between interface design and user-centered design. Fletch had heard of the HFI training. When a peer gave the program an enthusiastic two thumbs up, Fletch enrolled, earning his CUA certification in October 2006.

After his HFI training, Fletch was determined to get an "early, small win".

"We were using off-the-shelf portal software," he said. "I watched developers have to log in and re-login to this portal dozens of times a day." Fletch moved the login screen to eliminate that one small step.

Using the HFI ROI calculators, Fletch was able to quantify this success to management. He explains, "I showed that making a simple little improvement to save users 3 seconds per login, multiplied by the number of times they did it each day, literally saved over a $1 million worth of employees' time in a year."

The HFI training helped eliminate guesswork, and his job satisfaction zoomed. "From a satisfaction standpoint, it reduces stress in your job," Fletch says. "Some people run around like a chicken with their head cut off because they don't have a plan or methodology that ties directly to corporate objectives. I have a very specific way of proceeding that adds real value to customers and users every day.

"My HFI training keeps me focused on everything I'm doing today," he continues. "From understanding users, and developing scenarios, to just the simple things – early usability testing and user focus.

"What's most exciting is that now I'm able to apply usability to an industry that's really important and valuable. To improve the user experience for voters, election officials and poll workers is something that's fundamentally important to this country. So to be able to take this knowledge and help in this industry is very exciting."

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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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

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