The Joel on Software Discussion Group (CLOSED)

A place to discuss Joel on Software. Now closed.

This community works best when people use their real names. Please register for a free account.

Other Groups:
Joel on Software
Business of Software
Design of Software (CLOSED)
.NET Questions (CLOSED)
Fog Creek Copilot

The Old Forum

Your hosts:
Albert D. Kallal
Li-Fan Chen
Stephen Jones

How to interview candidates for "Usability Analyst" positions

Hi all,

We just lost our best user interface guy to retirement, and as such we are back in the market, looking for a replacement. None of us has any experience regarding usability, and we need a new guy in fast. Are there are Joel style guides to usability interviews. What should I be asking, what are the major warning signs, what is a good question to ask?

Some of the candidates have years of experience, some don't, but to me it doesn't seem to matter in this field. (Don't get defensive, I'm not saying it's easy to pick up, just that it seems to be a natural flair some people exhibit)

Any thoughts would greatly help

Sunday, January 21, 2007
I would pick about 5 programs and/or web sites and ask each candidate to walk through areas with you and discuss what is good and bad about the usability of the site.

If you find yourself in strong agreement, that person would make a good candidate.

If they pass that stage of the interview, take the interface that sparked the most discussion and talk about how the candidate would go about changing it paying special attention to whether the candidate can balance the time/money to make changes against the desired result. Did they ask about time frames or budgets before making recommendations about changing things?

I have found the best usability analysts combine artistic discipline with common business sense and an over-riding empathy/sympathy for the end-user. Key phrases will include things like "the users must really have a difficult time here", "wow, that's a neat way to present that" or "That's good but I think this would be better."
Just A Guy Send private email
Sunday, January 21, 2007
What is a Usability Analyst? Is it the same as a Human Factors Engineer? If not, what's the difference?
Meghraj Reddy
Sunday, January 21, 2007
You could pay your retiree some consulting money to help you select his replacement.  If he hasn't already moved to Florida, that is.  :-)
Sunday, January 21, 2007
What is a "usabilty analyst".

Our firm re-writes products effectively. i.e. we get clients (banks, printing firms, whatever) who come to us with 70/80s style software (desktop/web) and they want their programs improved in every sense (from speed to security, redundancy, etc) and also the UI usually gets a coat of paint.

So the programming team works on all the "under the hood" stuff, while the Usability Analyst finds what we can do to improve the program, without causing the client to retrain their employees. So basically the usability job is

"Here is an interface, find out whats good and whats bad, and improve as best as you can within $constraints".

constraints are usually Time, and Compatability (i.e. for banks and such, the software needs to look and behave very similar as their staff are all trained already and they can't afford to re-train all of their staff)
Sunday, January 21, 2007
OK, so it's like a term for HF Re-engineering that's used in the corporate cobol ware realm, is that an apt description? Haven't seen the term in the desktop or web services software worlds.
Meghraj Reddy
Sunday, January 21, 2007
"... banks and such, the software needs to look and behave very similar as their staff are all trained  ..."

So if you're going to rewrite the software but leave the UI alone, why do you need a UA at all?
Karl Perry Send private email
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Give your usability analyst candidates the following test:

See if they can even answer a third of the questions with conviction.
Yoey Send private email
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Ah yes, interaction designer. I'm never sure if these are all different things or the same thing. I guess I bring it up because I am wondering if a HF engineer or a interaction designer with a degree in cog-sci applies for a job as a usability analyst would he be considered suitable or is UA so specialized that only a UA would know what to do.
Meghraj Reddy
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Usability Analysts should know:

- How (and when) (and why) to perform low fidelity and high fidelity usability testing.
- May or may not be involved with recruiting usability test participants
- What the difference between qualitative and quantitative testing is and when you need each of them
- What to do with the findings of usability testing, how to determine recommendations to fix problems and how to (rapidly) produce a useful and effective report of the findings/recommendations.

Interaction designers and usability people tend to be more "designy". HF people tend to be more "Engineery".

Usability people inform design and management team members of usability problems with a UI/application/system.

Interaction design is more concerned with the behavior of an application. HF is more concerned with ergonomic/cognitive aspects.

On the Hierarchy of Needs, usability is in the middle. (Starting at the bottom, the hierarchy is Functionality, Reliability, Usability, Proficiency and Creativity)
MT Heart
Sunday, January 21, 2007
I second the idea of trying to persuade the retiree to help with the selection process. Preferrably he would be one of the interviewers. Without usability experience, you'll likely have trouble distinguishing solid reasoning from handwaving, and superficially neat and tidy solution from one that actually matches people's needs.

Another thing, explain the job to the candidate as you did above and see how he reacts. Some will find the idea of having to remaing "skills-compatible" with the previous version appalling, others will love having some kind of foundation to build on. You'll want a person who accepts your particular constraints as a challenge, and not an impediment to be resisted.

I would say that fully and throughoutly understanding a particular context has a very large role in good user interface design (and interaction design etc). When hiring a person to such a job, you should look for universal experience i.e. the meta-skills that help the person to gain such understanding and act upon it.
Aapo Laitinen Send private email
Monday, January 22, 2007
This is all excellent stuff guys, thanks for the feedback. I'll let you know what works out for us.

re: the job title (which seems to cause questions)
Our old guy called himself a Usability Analyst, so thats what we call the position. I've called him, and he has agreed to do a phone interview with potential candidates, which is also really useful.

Someone else asked why do we need one,
Answer: Cause we always change the UI in some manner. In some projects we are providing additional functionality that wasn't there to begin with. Sometimes we are given total permission to re-jig the UI. Sometimes we are asked to do on-site usability tests to identify key problems and eliminate them.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Some good interview questions to ask here:
MT Heart
Monday, January 22, 2007

This topic is archived. No further replies will be accepted.

Other recent topics Other recent topics
Powered by FogBugz