CUA of the Month – October, 2009

rosetta team
"I'm a big believer in credibility indicators. If you look at my signature, it says Jason Zimmer, MBA, CUA. Those letters after my name give me credibility, one in marketing and business, and the other in user experience."
Jason Zimmer, Director of User Experience

"HFI training really brought home the importance of research. It's so helpful to know how to access UX studies that support your argument, especially with upper management. It shows we're not just pulling stuff out of the air"
Elizabeth Glynn, User Experience Manager
User Experience Team

Closing the deal with user experience design: CUA training helps make Rosetta a top interactive marketing agency

by Douglas Gorney

Jason Zimmer is sold on usability.

He's seen how user-centered design delivers high-performance websites and solid ROI. "The relatively marginal investment an organization spends on usability testing will bring them exponential returns, worth thousands of sales or successful customer interactions. When it comes to user experience, whatever your metrics are, the ROI is huge."

The most compelling UX case study Jason can give for usability is probably his own. As Director of User Experience, he's responsible for leading the UX team in the New York, NY and Princeton, NJ offices. Rosetta is the nation's largest, privately-owned interactive marketing firm, with over 700 employees across several offices. It's comprehensive interactive services, including award winning creative and UX, helped land it on Ad Age magazine's Top 10 list of digital agencies, and made it #1 among independent, privately-owned agencies... two years in a row.

This is quite an achievement, considering where Rosetta had started from. "When I came here in 2007, there was less of a focus on usability, and more on content and visual design." Jason says. "People had gotten used to not having any user-centered design, any usability testing, any critical thinking around functionality. Rosetta was doing a great job of communicating to our clients' customers, but was not maximizing opportunities to engage them in relevant, usable experiences. We were often wasting resources by going back and fixing functionality after users complained."

Management could see that there was a usability gap, and brought Jason in to fix it. He hit the ground running, re-educating the Rosetta staff on the value of user experience, re-introducing usability testing into the firm's design cycle and most importantly, building a highly-trained user experience team around him. The year after Jason joined the organization, Rosetta acquired Brulant, a Cleveland-based interactive firm with a mature and highly effective UX practice. This set the bar high for Jason. "We needed a way to rapidly increase the capability of the NY and NJ teams in order to offer comparable UX services to our east coast clients." Jason and his team set out to look for avenues to help do just that."

While researching UX training providers, he was approached by User Experience Manager Elizabeth Glynn. Elizabeth had been working in UX for nine years and had wanted to take HFI training and become a Certified Usability Analyst™ (CUA). But at previous jobs, her bosses had not understood the value of usability training.

"Jason's take was very different. He said, 'You know, I think it's a phenomenal idea! We have a budget for it. In fact, I don't think we're just going to send only you, I think the whole department should do it.'"

"We had worked with HFI on a client engagement before, " says Jason, "and realized they were the right choice for training. They're well known, a leader in the field. Their courses have interesting topics, they are local to us, they are affordable. And I liked the fact that at the end of the course, there's an exam you have to pass to become a CUA. You have certification that you can show clients and colleagues. On your resume, on your email signature, it is impressive."

True to his word, Jason put both of the NY and NJ User Experience teams through HFI's CUA-track training courses, five people in total. So far, four, including Jason, have become CUAs, with the fifth just one course away from receiving his certification. It wasn't long before their user experience knowledge started to be felt by the whole firm.

"As an individual, the CUA exam has helped in knowledge-sharing, the ability to get information, knowledge, studies and research that ultimately backs the decision they have made and results in a better product," says User Experience Designer Vinny Cerpa. "But the better understanding of usability has been helpful far beyond the User Experience team. The emphasis that has been placed on making us CUAs has paid off in making our whole staff see the importance of usability and raising the level of everyone's work."

Jason and his team of CUAs continue to work with creative directors, designers and developers, and even the sales team.

"The UX piece really adds a lot to Rosetta's sales presentations," says Jason. "The designs by themselves are impactful, but don't necessarily display the critical thinking we use to respond to the whole RFP. Our creative directors are very critical about the creative process, the branding and positioning perspective – but not necessarily about usability. That's not their core skillset, but our team can go through the entire user experience, help determine what's going to sell, and make it concrete for a prospective client."

User Experience Designer Pete Jelliffe explains just how that works. "CUA training lets you illustrate how users will actually go through the site. That is rarely a neat, sequential path. And how do users learn about site in the first place? How do they get to it? You need to ask those important questions to ensure users can locate themselves in the content. User scenarios help us do that, and our HFI training materials are invaluable when you need to construct those scenarios."

Integrating UX as part of Rosetta's NY and NJ sales and design process has not happened overnight. Sometimes, it has been an uphill battle for Jason Zimmer and the CUAs on his User Experience team. "There were a lot of questions early on from folks wanting to understand the value of UX and how we can help create world-class solutions for our clients." Jason laughs, "They aren't asking those questions anymore."

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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