— 9 August 2004 —

How I Spend My Time

It is always an interesting exercise to define what you do in your job. Most every job I had went beyond what the job description entailed. I am slowly ramping up my efforts to look for a new job. It is interesting to see what these companies are looking for in an employee and I bet it is only half the responsibilities you’ll have to take on just to get your “regular” job done.

One of the things I do on all of the online job sites is do a search on the term “usability.” This usually casts a rather wide net. Positions like Manager, Programmer, designer, systems analyst, etc. Now, I know that these search results are just picking up keywords, but in a way it is nice to see usability so prevalent in different levels of responsibility.

After doing a “usability” search, I usually do a “human factors,” or “interface design” search. But all this searching has got me thinking: what exactly is it that I do do? When I break down my time on a project, and even between projects it looks something like this:

Business Analyst (BA)

About 30% of my time on a project is spent working on the business impact. Understanding the business goals, constraints, and agendas; agendas both of the business overall and the people assigned to represent the business. Technically I am not assigned to represent the business, but I have to come to a relatively detailed understanding of the business perspective in order to complete my main task of designing the UI.

Designer & Usabilityer

About another 30% of my time is spent on my “primary” job. This is what I transition into after spending months being a BA. The BA responsibilities don’t go away, but the focus shifts. Here I spend a good deal of time working with the “design team” consisting of a system designer, a BA (or several), and usually a lead developer. I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of understanding the user requirements for the system. And I also spend a lot of time drawing pictures of and testing possible UIs.

System Analyst (SA)

This is about 15% of my time. Performance, performance, performance. How can the design of the UI limit the strain on the system. How can I only make 2 calls to the server, or even better just 1 call? I don’t get as much in depth with this aspect as I do on the BA side. Largely because I have more interaction at the front end of a project, and many technical considerations happen after my allocation shifts to a new project. But while I am there, I have to take the constraints of the system into account. Performance considerations feed back into user expectations and business requirements. So an understanding of volume metrics is something worth having.

Human Factors Researcher

5% of my time is spent researching human factors considerations. It is a low percentage because my company has people whose sole job is to study human factors and come up with research. I get involved with their work from time to time, but primarily my research is into some questions regarding interface choices made by previous projects, or in support of something I want to do differently from previous projects.

Outside World Contact

I am one of the only people at my company, in the realm of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), that has a “life” outside of work. A professional life that is. About 5% of my time is dedicated to “outside world” contacts like UPA, SIGCHI, and other more blog-like pursuits. I put together a weekly email to the other designers with interesting things I find at WebWord, InfoDesign and many other HCI news sources. This has gone over well and it has produced a discussion group (which is also weekly time allowing) where we talk about recent news items and how it relates to the work we are doing. Even though this is only 5% of what I do, it is enjoyable and mentally stimulating.

Et al.

15% left. This time is spent doing everything under the sun. Reading email, phone calls, chatting with coworkers. 15% is a high percentage, but when you work in a company as large as I do, your work tends to rely more heavily on others’ input. So, as I have talked about in many of my previous posts, you can spend a lot of time just waiting for a decision.

What next?

One of the things I have noticed over the past 5 years is I spend more and more time up front on a project. And I have a desire to spend more time in the areas of discussion that happen before a project is even given a “go.” I would love to do everything I do now before a project. When a cost-benefit analysis is done, I can chime in on the human impact. I am working on some ideas, such as job shadowing and mentoring that would allow me to do this in an unofficial way. There really is no one specifically assigned to assess the human impact of change at an idea level.

So I think I will start searching under Business Analyst as well. I have a friend who just got a job as a BA. She worked in the same area as me, applied for an HCI position at a company and they called for the BA position. She will essentially be doing what she does now, but with a business focus. And that seems like a good fit. Setting aside the dogmatic ideas of user-centered design for a user-business balanced design dogma is a good thing.

Next step, setting aside that dogma for Systemic Design; the constant balancing between the needs of the business, user (customer), system where all parts had an equal level of importance and the balance only shifted due to contextual constraints. That would be a cool job.

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