How to embed usability & UCD internally
by Ismail Ismail (and published
by Robin Goode)
Trying to get the spirit of usability and user-centred
design (UCD) established internally can be a
difficult and isolating experience, even for the
most determined user champion.
Introducing change of any kind in organisations is
difficult at the best of times, doubly so when you
have to break through the concrete walls of 'process'
The emotional journey of trying to introduce
usability is no different to that of a
revolutionary, desperately trying to change the
status quo through various guerrilla tactics.
This article offers practical advice of what a user
champion can do to introduce and embed usability and
user-centred design within a company.
Find your knight in shining armour
Trying to get usability established in a hostile
environment is very difficult and often very
The most effective way of gaining support for your
is to get a senior executive sponsor on-board
Pick your 'knight
in shining armour' carefully and you
could soon be responsible for introducing the term 'usability'
into the everyday vocabulary of your colleagues.
An executive sponsor will further the cause by:
of a user-centred design approach with the senior
Fighting for budget
to resource usability projects with skilled
Promoting usability success stories
across the company
Supporting organisation change
to help institutionalise usability
The support of a marketing or communications
director or a chief technology officer (CTO) is
worth its weight in gold. But, without a strong
business case or the promise of increased
conversions it may be difficult to win them over.
The key is to build a strong intellectual argument
or to piggyback on organisational priorities.
Demonstrate the proof of the pudding
Getting stakeholders to take the leap of faith into
usability can be difficult without any existing data
Marketing departments will often commit significant
budgets to market research and CRM analysis to
measure the effectiveness of their campaign efforts.
However, getting buy-in to perform a usability test
of a product before launch can be stressful
The following practical suggestions are likely to
put the usability approach on the marketing radar
and may result in the allocation of budget:
Collaborate with market research
CRM groups to raise the profile of the usability
cause among marketers and communications
Piggyback on their market research efforts
to collect additional information from users
Talk to call centre staff
to hear about the reported issues affecting
Argue for the use of greater user-centred methods
focus groups and user interviews to formalise
future product user requirements
It can sometimes be difficult for a user champion to
differentiate market research from usability but the
risk of having no data is a greater risk to
establishing usability internally. Market research
CRM professionals can be strong accomplices and
compelling user evidence when trying to get a
senior executive sponsor on-board.
Focus on the high priority projects
Companies typically structure themselves around
organisational functions but high priority projects
tend to be cross-functional in nature.
Establishing which projects are of paramount
importance to the company is essential to getting
usability established. The programme managers
responsible for delivering these number #1
priorities are much more likely to be open to
recommendations due to the severity of the risk of
Build a list of high priority projects
and work out a plan for pitching to the top three
programme managers. Focus on convincing them of how
the project delivery approach could be improved
through usability and user research.
First steps to getting usability implemented
Getting your professional colleagues to take small,
comfortable steps can mean major change in the
It should come as no surprise that project or
product managers often welcome the risk-reduction
qualities of a
user-centred design approach. They can be
strong, secret allies for the cause and should be
encouraged to think about their end-users.
Consider doing the following:
Identify tactical quick wins
that can be implemented easily to demonstrate the
spirit of user-centred thinking
Persuade them to add product usability issues
into their bug tracking systems for future
Once usability issues are logged in
the bug tracking system gather support to
increase the priority given to such requests by
providing clear solutions
Support them by attending project and product review
and discuss the positive steps that can be taken to
improve the situation
Encourage them to add usability work into their risk
if it can't be added into the project plan (these
risks can be used to create a link between risk
reduction and a user-centred design approach)
Work with them to build a business case
for taking a user-centred design approach to their
Such guerrilla tactics can be useful in raising
awareness and may lead to establishing a limited
budget for usability work in the short-term.
Sell, sell, sell
Trying to establish usability is an ongoing sales
Raising awareness about the benefits of taking a
user-centred design approach is the name of the
There are a number of activities that can be used to
build interest of usability in the company.
First off, identify stakeholders from across the
company that are essential to your plan for
user-centred design. Then, build a highly
targeted communications message for each individual
stakeholder or group by:
Working with editorial teams
to introduce better web copywriting standards to
raise awareness of usability
Encouraging your professional colleagues to attend
around usability topics and to add this into their
personal development plans
Influencing large groups of stakeholders with an
or regular newsletter, which could be published on
your intranet or through other internal
More targeted communications can be achieved through
workshops or seminars to discuss specific projects
or products, always being careful to invite key
Integrate usability into product development
The long-term nirvana of establishing usability can
mean big changes to product development processes.
The most effective method of getting
user centred design in the process is through
Invite key stakeholders to watch the usability
Usability testing is a real eye-opener and once
observed most stakeholders find it difficult to
ignore the user as part of the production process.
(The most appropriate stakeholders are likely to be
project managers, user interface designs, creative
personnel, developers and business managers.)
Argue for periodic
usability testing during the process to validate
design decisions and test assumptions. This way,
user requirements will be tactically brought into
the process and will result in more relevant
products for your audience.
If your company has complex production processes
consider getting a specialist usability consultancy
in to help build a customised user-centred design
Once the new process has been created, a usability
consultancy can provide on-going support and can
even advise on how to bring usability capabilities
fully in-house, if thatís desirable.
In a nutshell
Establishing a user-centred design approach
internally requires commitment and determination.
But most importantly, it requires a user champion
thatís willing to build bridges across the company
by changing attitudes, hearts and minds.
Get your knight in shining armour on-board then
hopefully its power to the people!
This article was written by Ismail Ismail. Ismail
works for Webcredible, an industry leading usability
and accessibility consultancy, as Client Services