July 15, 2005

Change or Die

"What if you were given that choice? For real. ... You wouldn't change." Nine in ten people wouldn't change.

"You can train a rat to have a new skill. The rat solves a puzzle, and you give it a food reward. After 100 times, the rat can solve the puzzle flawlessly. After 200 times, it can remember how to solve it for nearly its lifetime. The rat has developed a habit. It can perform the task automatically because its brain has changed. Similarly, a person has thousands of habits -- such as how to use a pen -- that drive lasting changes in the brain. For highly trained specialists, such as professional musicians, the changes actually show up on MRI scans. Flute players, for instance, have especially large representations in their brains in the areas that control the fingers, tongue, and lips, Merzenich says. 'They've distorted their brains.'

"Businesspeople, like flutists, are highly trained specialists, and they've distorted their brains, too. An older executive 'has powers that a young person walking in the door doesn't have,' says Merzenich. He has lots of specialized skills and abilities. A specialist is a hard thing to create, and is valuable for a corporation, obviously, but specialization also instills an inherent 'rigidity.' The cumulative weight of experience makes it harder to change."

"What happens if you don't work at mental rejuvenation? Merzenich says that people who live to 85 have a 50-50 chance of being senile. While the issue for heart patients is "change or die," the issue for everyone is "change or lose your mind." Mastering the ability to change isn't just a crucial strategy for business. It's a necessity for health. And it's possibly the one thing that's most worth learning."

Read the whole article in Fast Company: Change or Die

[Via Laurie]

July 12, 2005

Usability Professionals Salary & Employment Survey

As President of a local Usability Professionals' Association Chapter, one of the topics I get asked about most often is salary benchmarking. Sometimes HR professionals have a hard time getting data about compensation for Usability related jobs. Well, UPA is doing something that will help answer those questions.

The UPA is running a survey to gather information on usability professionals, including employment/salary information. This survey is open to all who work in the field, whether a UPA member or not.

If any portion of your job relates to usability, please consider taking the survey. This might include many different kinds of positions like Usability practitioners, Interface Designers, Information Architects, Technical Writers, Business Analysts, Technical Analysts, Graphic Designers, Programmers, Trainers, Managers, and others.

Please take a minute to fill out the short survey online at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=24248929450. It only takes about five minutes.

UPA is hoping to get enough entries - from both inside and outside of the U.S. - to report on employment conditions and practices confidently.

The results will be published in the UPA Voice.

Related Sites:
- UPA Job Postings
- Usability related jobs list - DFW UPA Chapter
- User Experience Job Titles and Their Meanings
Is PC Support fundamentally broken?

A thought-provoking quote from PC World's Techlog - Dell vs. the Blogosphere

"When my electricity goes fritz at home, I call in the electrician and tell him what's wrong and he fixes it and tests it and I pay him and thank him. I don't have to hang out with him and hand him wirestrippers.

But with computers, we are expected to suffer through the process; we aren't allowed to say, 'Just fix it: The machine you made is broken so fix it and make sure it's fixed.'

Why the hell do we tolerate this? "

July 11, 2005

Ipswitch & Usability

At the UPA 2005 conference, I sat on a panel with Dr. Carol Barnum, mentioned below. I've also been a long-time user of WS-FTP, one of Ipswitch's best-selling products...so this press release caught my attention. I think it's a great example of business partnering with acedemic organizations for success. Carol is a really sharp lady, and it sounds like her group often partners with area businesses, educating them on the benefits of user-centered design.

Ipswitch to Give Presentation on Building User Centered Software

"Ipswitch Inc., a leading developer of messaging, network management and file transfer solutions for small to medium businesses (SMBs), will participate in the International Professional Communication Conference in Limerick, Ireland, July 10-13, 2005.

Three Ipswitch leaders, Ben Henderson, Chief Technologist; Kevin Gillis, Director of Product Management; and Joe O'Connor, Information Development Manager will team up with Dr. Carol Barnum, Co-Director of the Usability Center at Southern Polytechnic State to present 'Making Connections--Teaming Up to Connect Users, Developers, and Usability Experts'.

The presentation will discuss how Ipswitch is working with The Usability Center at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta (Atlanta), Georgia, to rigorously test Ipswitch's products. This testing allows Ipswitch to be in tune with what its customers want. Ipswitch has built its success around understanding and addressing the unique requests of the SMB market allowing Ipswitch to build software that works the ways Ipswitch's customers run their business. Starting with WS_FTP Professional, Ipswitch has now incorporated user-centered design and testing into all of its products.

Leading the collaborative effort to plan the testing at The Usability Center is Dr. Barnum, author of Usability Testing and Research (Allyn & Bacon/Longman, 2002). 'The success Ipswitch is experiencing confirms our belief that usability testing can be promoted as part of a user-centered design process,' said Dr. Barnum. 'When connections are established between developers and users, between usability experts and developers, and between the product and documentation managers and the users, everyone reaps the rewards.'

Ipswitch is integrating usability into the front and middle stages of development, instead of being performed at the end of the product development cycle, early enough so that feedback can be incorporated into future versions of the software before it is commercially released. By doing so, Ipswitch is able to include user-centered design into the product development methodology."