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Usability Consultants

Although a usable system should seem intuitive for the user, getting there is not always intuitive for developers.

What do usability consultants do?

Usability consultants work with designers and developers to look at how a product meets user needs so that they can improve the product to enhance productivity, increase user satisfaction, and minimize user errors.

If usability consultants are brought in before a website or software product is created, they can help developers achieve more consistently usable results. This is the preferred model for development, as usability can be built into the system rather than tacked on at the end. Usability is not about making an interface pretty. It encompasses issues such as information architecture, design, writing, and quality assurance. Usability needs to delve beyond surface elements. Still, if the consultants are brought in after production, they can evaluate the usability of a website or software product using one or more usability evaluation methods.

Usability consultants usually offer such services as needs analysis, usability evaluation (often through expert critique or usability testing), user interface design, and usability training.

What are the benefits of hiring a consultant?

  • Increasing the usability of a website or software product will raise productivity.
  • Bringing a usability consultant into the design and production process will reduce costs in the long run, since it is more cost effective to build a usable product than to repair an unusable one.
  • Doing a less-than-thorough job can cost more than money; it can cost you in time and customers.
  • They can evaluate systems more efficiently because they know what to look out for based on their experience with a wide range of systems.
  • They can offer perspectives that those close to a project may not have considered.
  • It is difficult to be objective about your own site.
  • Consultants are trained in a range of usability evaluation methods. They may offer an advantage by knowing which method is the best for your particular project.
  • Having a usable product will result in more satisfied and productive users.

What makes a good usability consultant?

Usability is a multidisciplinary field, and as such, a good usability consultant or consulting team must be able to approach the subject from multiple perspectives. Usability engineering is derived from many disciplines, including computer science, ergonomics, psychology, graphic design, and information science.

Usability consulting team members represent different perspectives and are experienced with many web/software projects, and this multidisciplinary background results in a better understanding of the end-user.

Extensive experience with various usability evaluation methods will enable a usability consultant to apply the appropriate method to your particular project, as not all methods are optimized for all projects.

How to work with a usability consultant

Here are some tips for working with usability consultants:

  • Work together to define the scope of the project in order to establish goals and expectations.
  • Know what you want to accomplish with your product.
  • Determine in advance how the changes will be implemented, and plan a timeframe and scheme for the implementation.
  • Keep the end-user as the focus of usability-related changes, not management’s expectations.
  • Understand that usability is a process in which changes occur over the course of the design and evaluation process.

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