Interview with Daniel Szuc


Interview with Usability Leader Daniel Szuc

Today’s interview is with a usability dynamo, Daniel Szuc. Among Dan’s significant contributions to the usability profession are: President and founding member of the Hong Kong branch of the Usability Professional’s Association, Principal Usability Consultant at Apogee Usability, Asia, co-creator of the Usability Kit, user experience author and speaker.

1. What’s your background? Where did you go to school, what subjects interested you?

Dan’s Life – Phase 1. I grew up and studied in Melbourne Australia and finished a Bachelor of Social Science (Information Management) at Melbourne University. This was a new degree at the time aimed at teaching a little about business and a little about technology.

Basically it was for people who did not have “the smarts” to do a either a full on business or computer engineering degree. The idea of the “Information Manager” is that he/she would be the bridge between the IT and the business – the person gathering IT requirements and translating these into business speak. This was the start of my interest in making technology easy to use.

2. How did you get into the usability field?

Dan’s Life – Phase 2. I started working as a Developer at Telstra Australia in a small development team at Telstra Research. I quickly discovered I had no real interest in learning programming and was not great at it. I did like the “front end” and worked as the person on the team who designed screens, created help files, wrote user manuals and walked through screens with the development team. I would also go on site to install software and train end users.

This was the beginnings of what I understood at the time as “Human Factors”. Then one day, while reading a Telstra newsletter, I noticed a job posting in a new Usability team forming to help implement User Centered Design as part of Customer Support systems. I jumped at it!

Dan’s Life – Phase 3. On that team I worked with some real pioneers and clever people in Usability/Design in Australia including Sarah Bloomer, Susan Wolfe, Gerry Gaffney, Shane Morris, Fiona Meighan and Sheryl Lumb (to name a few). People who are still in the UX field today! I was lucky to have such a great learning ground and platform.

3. What is it about usability that you most enjoy, or find most rewarding?

That there will always be design and technology problems to fix and there will always be ways to improve the “human condition.”

4. As Principal Usability Consultant at Apogee Usability Asia, what do you find are the differences, if any, between usability needs in Asian countries vs those of the west, and why?

Dan’s Life – Phase 4. The major difference is that the UX research and design field in Asia is still maturing. It’s really nice to be a part of it. The community is younger and eager to learn but still absorbing what it means to take UX methods and implement these in their own corporate cultures and teams.

There is still so much to learn on what it means to take existing product design approaches and apply them to these markets or alternatively to learn what it takes to research and design for emerging markets. Apogee’s suggestion is highlighted in an article – Don’t wait for permission to conduct your own research.

Everyone (time and monies allowing) should leave the comfort of their home city, community, friends/family and country and simply travel. Watch, listen and learn. We enjoy watching people who visit us and who may have never been to Hong Kong or mainland China before. I have lived in Hong Kong for 10 years and still have so much to learn, as I mentioned in an article, it is a constant cycle of self improvement.

5. You produced the Usability Kit in partnership with Gerry Gaffney. Why did you develop this tool kit and how do you picture it helping people that use it?

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The Usability Kit was intended to be a quick and practical tool kit for people who want to do “do it yourself UX.”

So what does it take to Design with the business and users in mind? How do we know if what we design will succeed in the market? How do we think about compelling User Experiences in the first place? How do we ensure we are constantly improving our designs going forward? The kit provides end to end UX tools you can use in your projects to ensure that Usability (and User Centered Design thinking) is being implemented towards making successful products and services.

This includes everything from understanding UX, to research (understanding your customers), to design (designing with and for your customers and business stakeholders) to evaluation (seeing if what you designed actually works well for your customers) and getting constant feedback along the way. Me and Gerry are big fans of “do it yourself UX” where you don’t protect your UX knowledge, rather you teach it to as many people as possible so UX gets baked into organizational cultures.

I also talk more about this and how to sell usability together with Paul Sherman and John Rhodes, who also recently published a book on the same topic called “Selling Usability – User Experience Infiltration Tactics.

6. In addition to all your other activities, you are President and founding member of the UPA China Hong Kong branch, what do you find is so rewarding about your involvement with the UPA in general, and the Hong Kong branch in particular?

The people and the UX profession. Whether you lead with Usability, Design, IA, UX, Research (or pick your own), most people you meet in our profession are deeply passionate about improving products to help people.

It’s also fun to be exposed to different UX markets through my travels over the years. To talk about shared pain and to also look at how UX could be better positioned. I hope to be able to contribute in small and big ways for many years to come and with this nurture new leadership. As we get older and as technology usage changes, it’s important to keep connected with a younger generation of users.

7. You’ve been spending some time in seminars and on blogs regarding accessing a company’s readiness to embrace UX, why do you believe this is an important topic, and what do you believe is critical to this assessment?

Yes, and I talk about selling usability in more detail in a recent article I wrote at UXMatters. I’ll also be writing about it in Johnny Holland Magazine, as precursor to the UX Australia Conference.

It’s important because we don’t always do a great job at marketing what we do. We use our own jargon… All the time! Usability, UCD, IXD, IA. It’s not surprising that the people who buy our services don’t know what they are buying.

We should be working on a “shared language” or a “common vocabulary” towards helping ourselves sell what we do more effectively and in the process help our clients reach product success.

We all have to sell to or work with different organizations and cultures that all have different levels of receptiveness to our message. Some organizations are more ripe to the UX message than others. There are “cultural patterns” that indicate healthy interest in UX and show that people are buying into UX including (to name a few:

  • Management is using the lingo – terms like User Experience or Customer Experience are being used in presentations
  • Hired a Director or VP of UX – this does not always promise UX success because it depends on how savvy that person is in promoting their team services. But it at least shows some organisational commitment to what we do
  • Usability testing of products is a given – some process is in place for critiquing products and services with customers. There is a constant flow of customer feedback being embraced and fed back into Product Development
  • Money is flowing to bring in new UX’ers – budget has been allocated to grow UX in the organisation. The UX army is growing.
  • Product managers claim that UX is strategic advantage – some form of UX involvement has helped them improve their products, make more sales and make them look good.

8. What are your plans for the future? What are you looking forward to doing next in your career?

First, I’m attending the UPA conference. Longer term –

Dans Life – Phase 5 – More travel, more happiness, more fun and good health of course 🙂

I hope to learn more on what it takes to make people and products more successful.

This is an important juncture for everybody on the planet. We are continuing to make products that people don’t need. We are also not doing a great job of understanding what people’s needs are in the first place (because we don’t ask) or we don’t make them part of our design process.

The continued development of stuff we don’t need or use costs us millions of dollars and we are creating more and more stuff that either cannot be sold or that gets thrown out, creating more and more waste. This does not help us become more sustainable, and this is really the time we need to start thinking about what and how we build new stuff.

Thanks for inviting me to this interview!

And my thanks to Dan Szuc for taking the time to provide his thoughts about usability!

Daniel Szuc:

Dan Szuc at Flickr
Dan Szuc on Twitter

Daniel Szuc’s Recommended List of Usability Reading:

1. Design is the Problem
2. The 3 Steps for Creating an Experience Vision
3. Is Your Company Designed for Humans?
4. It’s All Happening in China – A Report from User Friendly 2004
5. Usability in Hong Kong
6. UX India: Where have we come from and where do we need to go?
7. Daniel Szuc on UX in China
8. Best Careers 2009: Usability Experience Specialist
9. 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design

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