One in a series of interviews with people who make a difference in the usability field
One of the more enjoyable aspects of the usability field is having a chance to speak with and learn from people. After all, our ultimate goal is to make things easier for people, right? But it seems that in this electronic age speaking with and learning from people happens sometimes a bit less than it should.
So, I’ve decided to interview people who I believe have made a difference for those of us in the usability field. Many are usability practitioners, some not. But in my opinion all have gone above and beyond and have helped advance the usability field.
Today’s interview is with Paul Sherman, a former Usability Professionals’ Association President and Founder and Principal Owner of ShermanUX, a user experience consultancy.
1. What is your background? Where did you go to school and what subjects interested you?
I was trained as a human factors psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, where I earned my PhD in 1997.
My dissertation research focused on how pilots’ use of computers and automated systems on the flight deck affects their individual and team performance. During this work, I logged about 145 legs on the flight decks of commercial transport aircraft, mostly large passenger jets.
2. How did you first get involved in usability?
I first got involved in the user experience field when I found during my doctoral program that commercial pilots often struggled to understand and learn how to use the “flight management computer” on the newest, most highly automated jets. It was my first experience actually seeing and recognizing a real-world mismatch between designers’ and end users’ mental models.
3. What is it about usability that you most like, or find rewarding?
I absolutely love the fact that as user experience practitioners we are able to tackle business problems and make a significant contribution to an organization’s success. And the fact that we’re reducing frustration and – if we’re very good at what we do – generating delight is a huge bonus.
I really can’t imagine enjoying another career as much as I enjoy this one. Except for maybe rock star. But since that’s stopped paying well and I’m married, I’m thinking that UX now ranks higher than rock star.
4. You have served in several major roles for the Usability Professionalâ€™s Association, including being a past president. What did you find so compelling about your service with the Association?
Having the chance to help guide one of the major professional associations in the UX world has been a real learning experience.
It’s compelling because it has allowed me to develop my abilities to think strategically and to work through others rather than doing all the work myself. And it’s given me perspective on just how hard it is to drive organizational change, even with a relatively small leadership team like UPA’s.
The final piece of the puzzle for me has been being able to interact with other practitioners and learn more about how others approach the tasks that comprise our work.
5. In a recentUXMatters article, you discussed the importance of including the user experience as part of the enterprise software selection process. Why do you believe it is important to get this message out?
I think it’s important because, well, the enterprise software user experience typically ranges from abysmal to barely tolerable. It just doesn’t have to be this way! We can do better! OK, stepping off the soapbox now…
6. What is the single most important thing about practicing usability in an enterprise?
I think there’s actually two important things, both are necessary for success but neither alone is sufficient:
1. Clearly define what you’re trying to accomplish, both for each product release and for the organization as a whole. Without long-term goals, you’re just a service organization-slash-cost center.
2. Get buy-in from highly placed allies who are “true believers” in the value of usability and user experience. You will need these people to stand up for your team during budgetary skirmishes.
7. What is the biggest â€œgotchaâ€ or problem of enterprise software usability?
The biggest gotcha in my opinion is workflow. That is, it’s difficult to shoehorn every customers’ particular set of processes into the workflow determined by the software product, and it’s not always advisable to make the product’s workflow extremely configurable. Therein lies the rub.
8. What are your plans for the near future, whatâ€™s coming up next?
Over the past two years I have found myself doing more interaction design and contextual/field research to inform designs. I’m happy to have the opportunity to develop these skills and serve clients in this role. And it pays the bills quite well, which my gadget happy daughters are no doubt happy about.
Lately, I’ve been focused on developing a solid offering in the area of helping organizations plan, hire for, and execute on strategic user experience initiatives. Since I’ve built UX teams at several organizations, I feel it’s something I do well and can help others do.
The challenge is to define this offering in a way that makes it compelling to organizations. I think many organizations now “get” the value of tactical usability and interaction design, but are only now just starting to realize what it takes to maintain a long-term focus on their products’ and services’ user experiences. It takes commitment, focus, and regular measurement and assessment.
Thank you Paul!
I’d like to thank Paul Sherman for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions, and provide us with a bit more insight into the user experience.
I hope you find this interview helpful and interesting. If you would like me to interview others in the usability field that you believe have made a difference please do add a comment below.