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Chapter 13. Projects > Different Strategies for Practitioner Involvement

Different Strategies for Practitioner Involvement

Some companies seem to feel that the best way to deploy usability practitioners is to have them work as part of a development team that designs by committee. If this is the corporate design process, it does help to have a usability professional in the mix, but for significant development efforts, design of the user interface by committee is fiercely inefficient. Usability work is best done in cycles of data gathering and quiet work. It is important that the usability work involve others (e.g., developers, graphic designers, and so on), but for significant development efforts, the usability practitioner must be able to complete design work outside of committees. The practitioners need to study the users and find out how they react, then digest these insights and make design changes individually or in a very small group. It is painful to see committees discuss the wording of some link for a full hour. With 15 people working, that link costs 15 person-hours to draft! It is fine to have a committee participate in a walkthrough, but it is a poor way to do design, even if there are plenty of usability practitioners available.

When working on a silver or bronze project with limited resources, the usability staff can take an evaluative role. This means that the project team creates designs, and the usability staff reviews the work and provides feedback. The project team takes the feedback, makes changes to the designs, and returns the designs for another usability review if necessary. This process is actually less than ideal: It involves risks, and it may be inefficient. For example, if the data gathering with users is poorly done, staff might work hard on unneeded or incorrectly structured screens. A lot of review cycles may be needed to reach a good design. This can be frustrating and even a bit adversarial. (In time the developers will flinch just seeing the usability staff.) While this is not an ideal strategy, it does use less of the usability engineer's time. You can support an entire project with just a few days of help from a practitioner. You can consider this approach, therefore, for a silver or bronze project, but not for a gold project.


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