04 September, 2009

HFI Recently Published their “UX Maturity Survey 09″ Report, & there’s good & bad news about usability – especially about usability champions

User Experience is Not Yet Mature, Based on the Lack of Usability Champions

Reading the User Experience Maturity Survey that HFI recently conducted is a lot like reading your 401k statement. Sure, the good news is you have money in there, but the bad news is it’s a lot less than you were hoping for. Likewise, the User Experience Maturity Survey has good news and bad news, most especially about Usability Champions.

Over 1,000 survey responses were received (1,123 to be exact) which is a nice surprise, as I didn’t realize there were so many companies out there with usability practitioners on-board who were willing to share their experiences in usability with the rest of the world. Hurray for us and for usability!

More good news! The majority of survey respondents reported that User Experience (aka UX) fit into their business for:

1 – Building web sites (excellent, usability in websites is very important)
2 – Creating Applications & Software (great, usability helps there too)

Conducting usability work on web sites and applications is like putting a nice warm fuzzy blanket around the web site and giving it the tender loving care it needs to truly be successful out there in the big cold world. Well, not really, but you get the idea.
Half of Us Don’t Have a Usability Champion

But now to the bad news, almost half (48% to be exact) of the survey respondents said their organization does not have a visible, committed Usability Champion supporting user experience design.

Let’s stop right there for a minute. Let’s you and me put down our Blackberrys for a second and focus.

Most of the people who responded to this survey are doing usability work, and they are doing usability work for important things like building websites and creating applications. But barely half have a usability champion! Why, that’s like NASCAR drivers without a Pit Crew! It’s like a horse race without Jockeys! It’s like your wedding without a piece of wedding cake you can mash into your Spouses face (even though you were warned NOT to do that).

Folks, without a usability champion it’s going to be very hard to have a clear and actionable usability practice that operates as one of the core business units for your company! You’ll be stuck doing last second usability testing as an after-thought on almost completed projects that someone is realizing only now is totally screwed up and needs some sort of help, any sort of help, for the life of your career at your company! That’s sad, it’s like having to live in Seattle and constantly be rained on.

Finding a Usability Champion

So, if you are one of those unlucky 48% of usability practitioners that don’t have a usability champion, or you live in Seattle, here’s 3 things you can do about that (um the usability part, for the Seattle part your on your own – just kidding all you Emerald City dwellers, I heart ‘ya and your City, especially the Space Needle, it’s cool):

1. Find a Usability Champion – Most marketing and sales VPs are looking for ways to get their bonus achieve their vision for making their ever increasing web site sales goals. If there was a way you could show them that by improving the usability of their eCommerce web site their sales would increase, then you would have an instant Usability Champion (and probably be invited to some of those cool “Marketing/Sales after work parties”). Try researching “usability roi case studies” on Google, you might come across some helpful ammo with which to approach your Marketing VP.

If you don’t have a sales or marketing VP (really? remind me again how your company sells things and makes money?) then you might have a Product or Product Development VP. Here to, if you can demonstrate that by improving the usability of the product more people will find the product easier to use, and that will help increase use (sales?) of the product, then you might have a new friend.

HINT: The product development VP is probably worried about getting their bonus achieving their vision based on delivering a product on time. You’re going to have to prove to a rather skeptical person that you won’t slow him or her down in getting that product out the door while conducting usability work. I provided some hints on how to do faster usability testing which might come in handy here.

2. Become a Usability Champion – Nature abhors a vacuum (so do I when my wife tells me it’s time to vacuum the stairs!) so here’s a chance for you to step in and fill that usability void. Push hard for usability projects to anyone who’ll listen (at your company, your mom already knows you’re the best usability person in the whole wide world – whatever the heck “usability” is).

If you’re brave, you might actually conduct your own usability evaluation of your web site or product and provide an executive summary to some well placed VPs – just for reading material the next time they have to fly somewhere. Try to make friends with the coders and developers of the web site or application and see if they’ll become “usability friendly” – try taking them to lunch, that might help.

Also, read the post I wrote on the 7 enterprise usability tips for ways you can apply usability projects beyond just a web site, if that avenue is closed to you. There’s lots of potential usability projects lurking at your Company, in many different divisions. Consider IVR messages, customer service web sites or applications or even internal applications that all employees have to use.

The point here is perception is reality, and if all you do is talk about usability and how it helps increase sales or interactions or whatever, eventually people will believe you are the Usability guru and champion.

By the way, it’s important that you are a usability Champion that can actually get usability projects approved. Being a usability champion without the authority to use the company pen to sign a company check to pay for a usability project means you don’t have the authority to make usability projects happen, and thus you’re probably not a usability champion. Some of your co-workers in your office might be calling you just a “usability nut,” the mean ones a “usability chump-ion” (ouch).

3. Leave the Company – Guess what? Sometimes an old, non usability friendly door must close before a new, usability friendly door can open. If the corporate culture is dragging you down, and you’ve tried everything you can (see numbers 1 and 2 above) to get a usability champion at your company, it might be time to leave and find a company that does have a usability champion.

Don’t think of it as failing, being a quitter or throwing in the towel. Think of it as your company is not able to incorporate usability as a part of it’s core function, and thus you must find a better environment where you can make a difference practicing usability. Those losers.

According to USNews & World Report, you, yes you, as a usability experience specialist are in one of the Best Careers of 2009. If your current lame unresponsive dimwitted ignorant company doesn’t truly value and support usability, more than likely there’s another company out there who will.

So dust off your resume, dry-clean your interview suit, shine up those shoes and hit the pavement you usability experience specialist you! You’ve got a whole new exciting opportunity just WAITING for you to get started! What are you waiting for? There’s a better opportunity for you and all you have to do is take that first step!

Conclusion – User Experience is Not Mature, Especially without a Usability Champion

According the results of HFI’s recent “Usability Experience Maturity Survey 2009” almost half of those of us who completed the survey are without a usability champion. Without a usability champion at your company it’s going to be very difficult to achieve usability maturity, and include usability as a core attribute of your company’s operations.

If you’re not comfortable trying to accomplish usability without a usability champion, you can either find one in your organization, become one, or worst case leave the organization and join one that does have a usability champion.