Be a Usability Zombie


You should be a usability zombie. Really!

Usability and Zombies

Zombie by wvs via Creative Commons licenseUsability and zombies go together like Halloween and candy corn.

Why? Because of a few things that zombies do really well from a management perspective that you should copy and mimic. What with Halloween coming along it makes sense for you to consider this sage advice and carefully implement it. I guarantee it’ll help you be a better usability practitioner, or double your money back (wait, you didn’t pay anything, oh well, you get the idea).

By the way, you can thank me later because being a usability zombie not only in your work activities, but physically dressing up as one at your next Halloween office party guarantees you notoriety, a win for ‘most creative costume’ and a few highly trafficked photos on Flickr, (just give me credit for your big win, ok?).

For those of you who don’t know what a zombie is (and how was living in that cave all your life anyway?), Wikipedia defines a zombie as (yes, Wikipedia does too have a page for zombies why are you surprised?):

“A zombie is a creature that appears in folklore and popular culture typically as a reanimated corpse or a mindless human being.”

Craig defines zombies as:

“Dead people that some unknown (potentially evil) force reanimates so they can walk the earth again, but this time instead of wondering how come their iPhone isn’t forwarding their latest email (while sipping their non-fat no whip Grande mocha) they’re looking for delicious living human flesh to eat (by the way, goes great with the non-fat no whip Grande mocha, try it! and tell your friends!).”

If you need to research Zombies and usability, I highly recommend one of my favorite so-cheesy-it’s-great Zombie movies for your edification, ‘Dawn of the Dead‘ (the original 1978 version, not the re-make) by George A. Romero.

You see, Zombies have some excellent qualities that make them outstanding at getting things done with minimal fuss and maximum efficiency.

So here’s a few zombie qualities you should employ when going about your usability duties, well, like a zombie:

1. Zombies are focused

Zombies have but one purpose, one goal, one mission. In their case it’s to eat living human flesh. This makes them excellent managers, because they never lose their focus, and they stay on track no matter what obstacles are in their way.

Likewise, you as a usability practitioner must be focused. You must not let obstacles stop you. Your sole (so to speak) goal is to generate more money for your company or client. No really, it is! You just happen to be using your expert talents at usability to accomplish this goal.

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Usability is NOT the end goal, usability is but a means to a goal. And that goal is to help your company ( or your client’s company) do what it does better, faster and cheaper. Period.

If your company sells mobile cellular devices and plans, then focus all your usability energy on helping the company sell more cellular devices and plans.

If your organization is a library, then focus all your usability energy on making it easier for your library visitors to find and access the literature they need.

If you company sells Space Pet Clothes (yes, a company does actually sell space pet clothes (why do you not believe me, I’ve not steered you wrong yet, have I?) then by gosh use your usability talents to help them sell more space pet clothes.

And speaking of space pet clothes, yes, the Picard shirt (Best Captain – other than Kirk of course) would look GREAT on Jake, my Chihuahua.

Jake, Craig Tomlin's dog
Jake would look good in space pet clothes

Anyway, be like a zombie, focus 100% of your usability energy on improving your (or your client’s) organization’s ability to sell or deliver whatever they make, sell or service.

2. Zombies are slow but steady

Zombies are slow, but they never stop. This makes them excellent at staying the course and getting things done.

Usability practitioners who maintain a slow but steady pace can accomplish huge amounts of work. Like the story of the Turtle and the Hare, sometimes being too fast, not paying attention to detail and not staying steady will hurt you.

The latest fads are great and all, but the best way to be productive and accomplish usability improvements is by focusing on doing the things that matter, and ignoring the temptation to be thrown off course by some newfangled gadget or idea.

Be like a zombie, slow and steady. You’ll get that living human flesh usability improvement done and make a difference for your firm before you know it.

3. Zombies “live for” human flesh

OK, this one is a bit of a stretch but stay with me. Zombies live for (so to speak) and love eating human flesh, it’s pretty much what they excel at and what they know really, really well. They are experts at finding and devouring flesh.

Likewise, you should be an expert at usability, it should be your love. This means studying up on usability, talking about it with others and generally staying current with usability information and education.

Like loving human flesh, loving usability and taking opportunities to stay informed about it is a great way to improve your usability skills. Reading blogs (such as this one), books and using other resources like the Usability Professional’s Association (UPA) is an excellent way to continuously educate yourself about usability and our industry. The UPA has some excellent newsletters and magazines. If you’re not a member, it’s easy to join the UPA, and the education and information you will have access to will be very helpful.

4. Zombies don’t quit

One of the most redeeming qualities of a zombie is the fact that they will not stop, nor be persuaded to quit or give up. From a management standpoint this means when the going gets tough, the tough get (and keep) going.

For usability practitioners, there may be difficulties or seemingly impossible situations to deal with, but don’t give up.

Keep on trying, and don’t be at all afraid to do what zombies do and go up, around, over, under or across obstacles. Zombies don’t quit with their mission, neither should you.

5. Zombies have no politics

Zombies do not form groups or cliques, and zombies don’t spend time politically maneuvering themselves to corporate advantage. Neither should you.

Like a good zombie, you must refrain from the usual office politics, gossiping or other political forms of energy-drain, and instead stay true to usability and your purpose. I’m not advising you to hide from your peers, but if someone starts in on rumors or other company gossip, find a reason to politely excuse yourself and exit gracefully. No need to participate in time wasting bashing of others. Instead, focus on bashing some usability problems out of existence.

A good user experience is not just about web sites or applications, it’s about the quality of your time with your co-workers and peers. Make it a good experience and don’t participate in negative company politics.

Conclusion: Zombies and Usability

So now that you’ve had a chance to ‘digest’ all this excellent living human flesh usability information I think you’ll agree with me that zombies and usability go together like Halloween and candy corn.

Usability work, if practiced with a zombie-like determination, will have an impact on your organization, and on you!

So now that we both agree that being a usability zombie is a good thing, what’s YOUR favorite zombie movie?


  1. Craig, good connection between Zombies and Usability. Not much of a fan of the Zombie movies but really fond of good usability. Keep the death defying advice coming.

  2. Nice analogy, good blog title. =)

    For #3, I thought you were going to say something like “love humans…seek out ways to put you designs in front of people as much as possible. Feast on their feedback, dine on their brains, etc…”

  3. I work in higher education, where the focus isn’t quite as well defined as space pet clothes. In e-commerce, the website contributes directly to the primary goal. In my situation, it’s a support role. Our website in and of itself does not educate in ways that lead to degrees. But it may educate as to which degrees we offer.

    So far I’ve tried to split the difference and think of the focus of each directory or on rare occasions the focus of a single page. But I also try to avoid the silo mentality so often found on college and university campuses. (Which presents its own unique problems for #5.)

    Do you have any suggestions (zombie themed or otherwise) for situations such as higher ed where the focus isn’t quite so, uh, focused?

  4. Hi Derek,

    Your .edu mission IS focused. You just have to figure out what that focus is – for each section and for each page of a web site.

    Without a focus or purpose, why do you have your web pages and web site available for public view? What’s the purpose of the content? How do you know if the content/page/site is successful or not?

    The hard part is determining exactly what your focus is for EACH page on your site. (You’re probably saying – “no duh Craig!”)

    Most larger institutions have multiple stakeholders, thus most large web sites have multiple purposes. For the educational institution, there may be stakeholders who wish to use the site to display the courses offered in an attempt to stimulate interest in taking the course or becoming a student. That’s an easy one, the purpose is marketing courses and the metric for success would be the number of inquiries that page generates.

    Other stakeholders may wish to display content relative to their needs; professors, administrators and counselors may each have specific needs thus content. Those needs may not be associated with a unique number, but there most like is a metric for success that can be defined.

    Reaching out to each stakeholder and clearly documenting their goals (thus needs) would be a crucial step. If they can’t articulate their goals, or they believe content needs to be there “just because” then I would question them back with a request to help you identify their “metrics for success.” Exactly how do they know their content/page/section is successful? Once your stakeholders have described a metric for success – you can reverse engineer to determine the purpose of the content/page/section and life becomes easier.

    If that doesn’t work, just eat their brains keep on doing the best you can trying to establish focus.

    Hope that helps!

  5. Yes, very helpful, thanks.

    So you would say I’m on the right track by trying to define the focus of individual directories or individual pages rather than trying to make sweeping generalizations about the primary focus of the sum total of content hosted on our domain.

    What I’m not doing yet, and what you seem to be suggesting, is working at getting stake holder buy in and input when it comes to determining the goals and metrics for their particular content. Right now I’m running on a lot of assumptions, some of which are sure to be flawed if not flat out wrong.

    We’re been passively collecting data on the existing site in Google Analytics for about 18 months now. That gives us a baseline for the very basic stuff. But getting truly useful data will require defined metrics to be bench marked and monitored. We’ve been discussing all this in vague terms over the summer, but solid plans and documentation are needed. I’m looking forward to a book pending publication on that topic, “Performance Based Design”. (I’m not sure if html is supported, so here’s the full url

    The most obvious hurdle is collecting quantifiable data for things like program inquiries. Tracking inquiry form submissions is easy enough, but I’d say phone calls and email inquiries are just as popular, and not as easily tracked.

    Half this usability gig seems to be fostering an organizational culture to support it. Is that like spreading the usability zombie virus? 🙂

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