I Can Exist Now. The NYT Said So.

new york times article on usability professionals

I have mixed feelings about this article in the New York Times about Usability Professionals: Technology’s Untanglers: They Make It Really Work. I’ve read mixed feelings about this article as well.

Had it been written 5 years ago, I’d be really pleased about it. But it isn’t a very well written article and has some mis-information as well.

Enter the usability professional, whose work has recently developed into a solid career track, driven mostly by advancements in technology.

“Recently developed?” “Solid career track?” “Advancements in technology?” If recently means the past 10 years then fine, but I don’t see the “usability professional” as a solid career track on a large scale. And I have no idea how it’s been driven by technology. Most of the tired and true tools in our box are pretty lo-fi.

We bridge the gap between what technology is capable of doing and what users want to achieve.

We do? I think you could make a strong case that we identify the gaps between technology and user goals, but bridging? Our role has been viewed as expendable in the past and the companies that have cut us in budget shortfall times have still been profitable. Or they don’t even use us at all until after the product is ready to ship (hello Microsoft). “Bridging” makes us sound like we’re required for success.

You might not expect me to say that, but I see my ultimate goal as a usability guy as working myself out of a job. It would be lovely to get to the point where I am expendable not because of budget crises but because the organization I work for (no dig on my current employer, this is an “in general” comment, really) “gets it” and lives to make the user’s life effective, efficient, and satisfying.

In response to a growing demand for usability jobs, schools are offering degrees in areas like human computer interaction, new media and accessible Web design.

This has been happening for a long time now. Yes, the demand is growing (I get a lot of hits on my site for searches related to Human Factors degrees), but schools have been offering this for a long, long time. What is new, and isn’t happening that much, is focusing on accessible web design.

More specifically what the author should have written (of the editor should have caught) is Web Standards-based design techniques which does tend to solve most accessibility issues. There’s a neat looking program (really) at Boston University, CDIA. I went to an open house and asked about usability and web-standards design in the curriculum. The response I got from one of the professors was akin to, “if there’s time we get to it.”

The Usability Professionals’ Association offers tutorials and holds an annual meeting.

“Annual meeting” sounds like a closed-to-all-but-members-only. It’s a conference (at which the annual meeting happens) which, as far as I know is the only time tutorials are offered by UPA. Yes, there are chapter events year-round, but the article doesn’t mention that.

We’re working with companies like Microsoft and Yahoo and having a lot of trouble finding user-experienced people,” he said.

User-experienced people. People who are experienced with users? This is either an editorial issue or Harvinder doesn’t know what he’s recruiting for.

Then it might employ a usability design expert to incorporate the researcher’s findings into the way a product works.

I’ve seen countless job titles attempting to describe what we do. But I’ve never heard of a “usability design expert.”

Fresh Starts is a monthly column about emerging jobs and job trends.

The article is written in the style of an Emerging Job, but should have been a Job Trend piece. I think you could make a good case in writing this article about Experience Design or Design Strategy, but not about “traditional” usability professionals.

BONUS: For some odd interaction design fun, try double-clicking on the NYT article’s title (or any text for that matter). WTF? Talk about your discoverable feature.