The Politics of Usability
Michael Rawlins, Certiﬁed Usability Analyst
Presented June, 2008
Usability Professionals Association for a panel presentation in Baltimore, MD
- Experienced Usability Analyst
- Over 20 years of Fortune 100 company experience
- Has institutionalized usability for three companies
- Certiﬁed Usability Analyst (CUA)
- HFI’s CUA of the Month in 2007
“The buck stops here” - Harry Truman
So... Take ownership of political problems.
Is Usability a task for Sisyphus?
Who has heard this?
“We don’t have time for usability right now.”
“We don’t need you right now... maybe later.”
“The project is almost done. Can you check it out?”
I imagine you’ve heard many others...
But - we’re here...
Many organizations have heard the message and now
have usability staff.
And trained them...
And hope to use them one day...
The art of politics...
“Politics move mountains with mere words.”
Here are some words
Talk the talk
Walk the walk
You: “I think we should use a drop down list here to
make it easier to type the entry.”
Them: “That’s your opinion. Here’s my opinion...”
Guideline: Avoid giving opinions.
See 11 more guidelines - next...
Cite Data (Top Winners...)
1.“Research indicates that...” (www.usability.gov)
2.“Our usability testing shows...”
3.“Our Standards say... and our standards are usability
4.“Best practices suggest that...” (reference material,
books, gurus, training material...)
Gedanken Experiments (Einstein)
5. Cognitive task analysis
- Identify loads (Visual, Intellectual, Memory, Motor)
Example: To select a radio button
- decide to use the mouse (I)
- look for the mouse (V + MO)
- reach and grab (MO)
- reposition pointer (V + MO)
- select option (V + I + ME + MO)
6.“I don’t know... we’ll run a usability test” (avoid
speaking for all users).
7.“If I were to conduct a usability test, I expect x% of
subjects to have this problem.” (give reasons)
8.“If I were the usability test subject, I would probably be
9.“Other usability tests, covered similar issues...” (and
those tests suggest we do x)
10.“Our interview and observations showed end-users
actually did x.”
11. “End-users said they thought x” (collective mental
You: “I read that Jakob Nielsen said...”
Them: “Yeah, but Jarrod Spool said...”
Next are six more insights...
1st - Earn their Respect...
If you are a gatekeeper for usability, can you
demonstrate earning that role?
Doctors earn an MD; Executives earn an MBA; Pilots
What is your “white lab coat & stethoscope”?
PhD? MBA? *CUA? *IIBA?
*Certiﬁed Usability Analyst
**Certiﬁed Business Analyst
2nd - Style Matters...
Did you pass a driver’s license test?
What did it mean?
A credential validates your knowledge.
Self conﬁdence creates authority.
Self efﬁcacy shows up in our “style”.
3rd - Be A Professional
Professionalism means membership, peer review,
leadership, demonstrated skills.
Passing a test means “initiation”.
“Professional” - means Sr. Management treats you:
As an ally and partner
With expectation (your insights are critical...)
4th - Network Aggressively...
Read & meet your peers in your industry.
Always share your political challenges.
Share your ideas, insights & solutions.
Share your point of view (on LinkedIn, Twitter & other
Stay in touch and learn from your peers...
5th - Negotiate Ethically
It’s not important to win every argument.
Allow you peers and stakeholders to reach at the
correct conclusion in their own way (on their own
time...) Supply the kernels of knowledge.
Share the importance in open discussions - where you
supply ‘evidence’ and ‘research’ to back up you ideas
Communicate risks - honestly & openly.
6th - Inﬂuence Your Peers...
Use persuasive techniques to inﬂuence your peers and stakeholders:
Reciprocation - Your peers will tend to return a favor. Do favors...
Commitment and Consistency - If people commit, orally or in writing, to
an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment.
Social Proof - People will do things that they see other people are doing.
Authority - People will tend to obey authority ﬁgures.
Liking - People are easily persuaded by other people that they like.
Scarcity - Perceived scarcity will generate demand.
Talk the Talk...
You: “We could make money by decreasing drop
Them: “Yeah, but we make more putting that
reprogramming into advertising.”
See three additional ideas to consider...
1st - Practice Doctor Speak
First impressions count “bad designs” versus “basic
failure to align text, graphics, headers or using a grid
The phrase below suggest ‘expertise’:
“There are visual affordance issues in this design.”
“Fitt’s Law provides some guidance as to why the
icons will not work for our users.”
It’s important to always carefully explain terminology.
2nd-Think like Management
Return on Investment (ROI) - deﬁnes your practices
core value to Sr. Management.
Use tools to calculate:
reliance on a help desk
reduction in training
increase conversion rates
decrease in drop-off rates
Read about ROI (HFI, Deborah Mayhew & Jeff Sauro)
3rd - Seek Practice Maturity
1. Beginning Usability - seek showcase projects.
2. Secure an Executive Champion - for budget, direction,
change management & organizational muscle.
3. Build infrastructure - share assets, set standards, build
something tangible, easy to access and leverage.
4. Stafﬁng - choose the correct model that derives the greatest
value to the company.
5. Make Routine - strive for usability as a routine activity in the
development life-cycle (like hygiene).
Survey: Where is your practice?
You: “Users are having difﬁculty getting through the site
without making navigational errors.”
Them: “Goodness! We can’t redesign the whole
website! Can you be speciﬁc?”
Next - four concepts to help quantify your analysis.
1st - Beyond More or Less...
Measure usability to learn
Efﬁciency (time on task)
Effectiveness (task success rates)
Satisfaction (subjective assessment)
Learning (time to learn/adopt)
Errors (ratio of unintended errors & ability to recover
ROI calculations require measurement.
2nd - Margin of Error
Margin of Error (cont.)
Like voting polls - measures can be ambiguous
+/- 3% (you need 1,067 people to get +/- 3%)
If 8 out of 10 success a usability - don’t say 80%
Best you can say is “48% of 96% passed”
3rd - Use Time on Task ROI
Reduces margin of error for ROI calculations
Use “geometric mean” not “average” (just like median a
To really save 20 seconds, go for the bottom of the
margin of error.
3rd - Share ROI Analysis
Walk the Walk!
You: “Why don’t we focus on more usability?”
Them: “We have so many more important things to do
- than worry about pretty screens...”
Finally, advice on steering your stakeholders...
Coordinator versus Expert
Ego Issues: reduce threats (read your colleagues body
Respect Opinions: listen, facilitate & always be open
Avert Resentment: foster teamwork and collaboration
Be the expert: provide access to research
Use Change Management
Read about the domain (aggressively)
Publish (or perish...)
Provide advanced notice on changes (drive change
through proactive communication)
Make it personal (avoid broadcast announcements)
Update project progress (become part of
Commercialization, PMO & Sr Team updates)
Reward Early Adoption
Praise in public (seek opportunities to showcase good
Facilitate positive feedback loops.
Acknowledge your Executive Champion publicly.
Provide your Executive champion with success stories
to share to his/her peers.
Sweat Equity Training
Create a usability training program
Kick-off projects with a training class
Be the expert - the lead trainer of the domain
Establish usability forums
invite other professionals to attend (Trainers, BA’s,
PMs, Marketing people, Legal, Developers...)
Run often (lunch & learn formats really work)
Job Titles Matter...
Rethink your title - avoid the ‘title of the day’
Think of your title as your personal brand statement
Make certain your title communicates:
framer and doer (a thinker who can roll up their
practical not theorist (hands-on, not just a
Overcome political objections to usability:
Talk the talk (be professional, credible and involved).
Walk the walk (share, be ethical & establish yourself
as the company ‘go to’ person).
Lead (teach, get published, establish yourself as an
expert, use persuasive techniques to negotiate)
Facilitate (bring in others, be the center of the craft)
Praise (deﬂect attention by shining praise on others)
A special thanks to John Sorﬂaten
a fellow panelist at the 2008 Usability Professionals Association Conference