Pulse of the Usability SIG
by Whitney Quesenbery, SIG Manager
It was hard to decide just what the pulse of the SIG is right now. In some areas and some industries, the news is all gloomy, with wave after wave of layoffs. Conferences are braced for reduced attendance, and business cards are passed around at networking events. Signs of the dislocation crop up in odd places, like the high number of returned copies of the October newsletter. On the other hand, some people seem to be not only surviving, but thriving. I hope this means that they work for companies that understand the competitive value of usability. Even though help-wanted listings for usability engineers may be down, usability skills are now included in many job ads for positions from requirements analyst to web developer. This job market calls for flexibility and a broad base of skills to complement your core work.
Just do it
There may never be a better time to try some usability techniques in your own work. That may sound counter-intuitive. How can these days of belt-tightening and layoffs be the time to try something new? You'll have to do a little user analysis on your own manager and business context to choose the right approach. However, if we really believe (and I certainly do) that usability can improve the bottom linemake products more competitive and shorten development time by getting the right answers earlythen let's prove it.
Don't get me wrong. Small starter activities are not going to create a complete
usability program overnight. But they can open the door (and make you look good at the
same time). I'm not alone in this. Posts on several usability lists in recent months have
expressed the same sentimentask forgiveness, rather than permission, as
one person put it.
Use STC opportunities
I'm often asked about the value of STC membership. I had a good picture of the answer
when I attended the 6th TransAlpine Chapter (TAC) meeting. This group is spread across
five countries, and therefore needed to look beyond STC's traditional monthly meetings for
new ways to meet the needs of members. The chapter practices user-centered design
(although they might not call it that) in planning their activities. An ongoing membership
survey lets them track the demographics of the group; user requirements for future
meetings are gathered, and their success in meeting those needs is evaluated through
In addition to a discussion group and experiments with virtual meetings, the TAC holds twice-yearly mini-conferences that include social activities as well as presentations and seminars. The result is a strong sense of camaraderie and a weekend of knowledge sharing and networking with colleagues. (Hats off to all of the organizers, especially to SIG member Sokol Zace and the team at Ergoline who not only organized a great event, but put their information design and usability skills to good use in creating the conference materials.)
Find local colleagues
There are now more than 2,500 members of the Usability SIG, so there is a good chance that there are a few other people in your chapter to network withperhaps even start a local SIG. Another way to network is to look for other organizations in your area that have an interest in usability. The UPA (www.upassoc.org) and SIGCHI (www.acm.org/sigchi) both have local chapters, but you might also look for local gatherings of information architects (argus-acia.com), visual designers (www.aiga.org) or ergonomics professionals (www.hfes.org), and attend to network or even create a joint event.