Are there needles in this haystack?
August 17, 2009 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for user interface shops or departments within companies that do a particular kind of work, and that hire a particular kind of role (even if they have no jobs open right now). Do you know if they exist, and whether they're common or rare? Or, do you know how I can find out?

What I'm looking for is defined by two things -- the kinds of interfaces the company creates and the kind of role I would have.

For the kinds of interfaces, examples of what I'd like would be the screen that a nurse uses to run a machine, or the pda application that a sales person uses to manage their road-trips. I like working on interfaces where:
-- The users have a goal to accomplish besides exploring the interface itself. So, not brand websites or information databases.
--The users really need or want to do the task; it's not something the company has to convince them to want to do. So, not most retail sites or marketing-related work.
--The goal is focused and concrete. So, not sprawling system or multi-purpose application work.
I think that embedded systems are more often good examples of this kind of interface than websites or PC applications, though I wouldn't rule those out if they satisfy the description.

For the kind of role
--I love gathering requirements and defining offerings through qualitative ethnographic research and analysis of the functions of comparable products.
--I love figuring out the logic and architecture.
--I don't mind qualitative usability testing.
--I don't mind some specification/documentation.
--I don't do any visual design.
--I don't do any quantitative testing, market testing, or ergonomic stuff like eye-tracking.
--I don't do any coding, not even in something like Flash or html.
So, I'd need a user experience role on a team where others are responsible for both the visual design and the techie parts.

Is defining the work and the role as above so narrow that I eliminate just about every position I might ever find? Or are there lots of potential matches? Do you know of any in particular? Or, do you know how I could find out, including for companies that aren't currently hiring?

My wife and I live in northern California now, but we're open to some other parts of the US. I can stay in my current, good job and out-wait the economy indefinitely.
posted by Other to Work & Money (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1. User Experience Design
2. Human Factors Research
3. Human Computer Interaction
4. Product Development, and / or Management
5. Marketing / Design companies

1. User Experience Researcher
2. Human Factors Research
3. Customer Research
4. Business Analyst
5. Information Architect
6. Interaction Designer
7. Usability Specialist

If by saying you don't mind some specification, you mean you don't mind creating very rough design layouts or "wireframes" then roles 5-6 apply to you as well.
posted by xammerboy at 2:29 PM on August 17, 2009

My job is pretty much this. However, there is always a possibility that someone might want me to do some eyetracking, and if I didn't know anything about HTML or stylesheets, I'd probably be more frustrated than I am interacting with the people who actually make the thing. (As far as I've seen, you either do usability testing or you don't. I've never seen someone whose job is SOME usability testing, but it's a big world out there.)

I'm not clear from your question whether you refuse to do/learn the things in the NO column, or whether you just haven't done them. I think, frankly, that by having this list of NOs, you are detracting from your own value as a professional. Meeting business goals with Web technology is ultimately my job, and success is frequently measured with "marketing" metrics as well as dependent upon HTML, Flash, Stylesheets, Python development, etc to work, so eliminating those as areas of expertise is going to make you seem like you want to work in a vacuum. Which, maybe you do. I have yet to work in an environment in which that is more valued than a robust generalism, though.

I'm not trying to be deliberately negative, and I'd be happy to discuss this more if you want to Mefimail me.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:08 PM on August 17, 2009

You might focus on healthcare Web sites, btw. In fact, that seems to be the only kind of Web site (where users have to use it, rather than because they want to) you haven't eliminated. Oh, or e-government sites, although in the best of times those seem to have UX budget of $0. In this economy, you might have to pay them to work there.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:10 PM on August 17, 2009

Aaaaand never mind about the Web business. Reread the question. Der.

Definitely look into medical device companies.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:26 PM on August 17, 2009

Best answer: The jobs you seek do exist. They are uncommon and highly specialized, but that's like any particular kind of technology design work. But people with those skills are needed and are in high demand right now. I have seen jobs that your criteria (saying you have actual professional skills and are not just starting out in a UX/IA/ID/IxDA career on this list: NYC-CHI. There are similar lists for other cities too. [p.s. - for that link to work, you'll need to join the group].

These jobs are usually around verticals, especially healthcare and financial services (think about trading systems, the computers brokers use to analyze and execute trades). Based on your question, I personally think that ecommerce sites fit in your criterion for users to be intrinsically motivated to complete well defined tasks. Users of corporate marketing websites are not always intrinsically motivated (though members of the press, job seekers, and others are for sure), but surely anyone who's finding, comparing, configuring, and buying a product is motivated.

Companies who do lots of embedded systems design work, such as Phillips Design and Agilent have folks who do this. I'd think about using a UX-specific headhunter if it were me. I know that The Joanne Weaver Group is highly regarded.
posted by zpousman at 4:36 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all, and zpousman, that's a fantastically helpful answer!
posted by Other at 1:21 PM on August 18, 2009

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