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December 4, 2008 10:44 AM   Subscribe

How do I go about marketing myself as a usability expert?

I've been a business systems analyst for about 14 years now, and it's starting to bore me. I'm a contractor, so I temper that boredom by switching jobs/industries every year or so, which forces me to learn a fresh industry; the mechanics of being an SA/BSA are really starting to bore me, though.

So, I'm starting to ponder "next move" options. The logical/usual next move for someone in my position is into project management, but the thought of being a project manager makes me want to set myself on fire; nothing against the PM's that may be reading this, but it's not a skillset I have or want to develop. I've done some programming/DBA type stuff, but that doesn't really interest me either.

In my time as a BSA, I've really tried to make every product I develop extremely user-friendly, and to make them flow in a way that makes real-world sense. I have no formal usability training, but it's something I think I'm really good at, and I think now that "usability" is a thing (it wasn't so much when I started), I'd like to head in that direction.

So, to that end, how do I tailor my resume to stress that while I'm not formally trained in usability, I'm really quite good at it? I'm also willing to take a step backwards, career-wise, if starting from scratch is the best way to go. Unfortunately, going back to school is not an option for me right now (my wife's probably going back to school soon), but I would be open to some sort of online study course/tutorial if it's not too time-sucky on a daily basis.

Any ideas on how I might re-orient my career would be most helpful.
posted by pdb to Work & Money (8 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
If you have an organization you'd like to work for, why don't you do a spec analysis of their web presence, offering some carefully thought out recommendations? Then figure out who the right person would be to get an informational interview with, and present your recommendations.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:00 AM on December 4, 2008

Stress your experience in building sites and software that meet federal guidelines for usability, especially Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the relevant sections of the ADA and other laws and acts. If you don't have that experience, start building it.

I write software for the desktop, not the web, but the lessons you learn are mostly the same and I know they've helped me land at least one position in the past.
posted by xbonesgt at 11:07 AM on December 4, 2008

One book I'd like to recommend is Designing the Obvious. I'm a web developer, and this book really gave me a decent foundation into building usability into the design.
posted by pyro979 at 11:14 AM on December 4, 2008

I don't think you need to go to school - I have a liberal studies education, but have been working in the usability and user experience field for several years now.

There are varying degrees of usability. As you peel back the layers, you'll notice that the slope gets very slippery, and facets of other disciplines show their faces. (marketing, technology, psychology...)

Over the years, immersion has been the best teacher and the best way to stay on top of the latest trends, techniques and buzz about what is practical, accepted, and new in the field. I listed some resources below that may help get you thinking in the right way.

A word of caution - usability in application design is some way similar to web usability, but there are many points of differentiation. Many applications function with a degree of necessity/utility that websites don't have. Websites, as a result, don't have the advantages of a captive audience, and interfaces must reflect as such.

Usability has a reputation with some as a soft skill set; that its about "feel". That is incorrect. A visit to the SURL link below shows a sample of scientifically performed experiments that gauge the usability of elements such as type faces and perform eye tracking studies and other issues within human computer interaction (known as HCI)

Lastly, I have seen a number of people try to 'fake it'. You can't. Feel free to message me if you want more info, or I can post here if people would like to know of more resources. Good luck - my career is also my hobby. I have fun doing this stuff every day, and the community is a fun one.

I list some resources here, all web based. The bedrock of the profession remains the same, but interesting things are being said by smart people every day on the web. I also believe if the web is going to be your job, you should consume as much of it as possible.

A List Apart
Andy Rutledge : Design View
456 Berea Street
Bokardo - Social Design by Joshua Porter
Creating Passionate Users
Useit (Nielson)
The Usability Professionals Association
Usable Web (resources/link dump - old but still useful)
Usability First (again, and old site, but good intro to the field)
The GSA list of resources
Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL) at Wichita State University (outstanding research)
posted by angry jonny at 11:47 AM on December 4, 2008 [7 favorites]

Just to add to the resource list, Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think is a few years old now, but is still one of the books I pick up when we're working through a UI problem.
posted by jalexei at 11:58 AM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

angry jonny - thanks, that's an awesome list of resources. I'm not sure whether I want to focus on web usability or application usability, that's one of the things I need to sort out - all these are great answers and will help me out a lot.
posted by pdb at 1:19 PM on December 4, 2008

You need to create a portfolio of deliverables that show you can do the job. Pick one or many:

- Researcher: Conduct user research and task analysis
- Usability tester: Devise and run usability tests
- Information architect: Make paper prototypes and process flows

It sounds to me like you want to be an information architect. I would start by creating these deliverables for your current projects, or even for non-existent projects. Bring these along to your interviews and "prove" you can do the job.

You may want to join a local usability group, I think some are listed above, in your area. Find someone you can pay a couple hundred bucks to guide you and review what you create. This is a short, and I think realistic path to becoming an IA.
posted by xammerboy at 8:38 AM on December 5, 2008

Oh, and you may already be creating all these things as a BA for all I know. Sometimes these roles completely overlap.
posted by xammerboy at 8:39 AM on December 5, 2008

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