Program Report

Building Relationships with Developers

Opportunities for Usability Specialists

By Anne Louiselle

  Joe Dumas
  Joe Dumas
  Photo by Anne Louiselle
The relationship that usability specialists have with developers matters. "Without a good relationship, it is less likely that changes will be made, less likely that developers will come back, and less likely that managers will plan time and resources for the usability specialists," said Joe Dumas.

At the joint meeting with the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) and the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication on Wednesday, April 17, 2002, Dumas explained how relationships could be developed and enhanced.

"Methods of evaluation differ, but they provide opportunities to work together with developers. Making the relationship work is critical," said Dumas. "Trust, mutual respect, and bonding through work can help build a good relationship. Trust means providing consistent support so that there are no surprises. Mutual respect means sharing objectives and working as team players. Bonding through work occurs when people work through adversity and share in the hard work." Dumas provided three methods of usability evaluation and explained the opportunities that they provide to develop the relationship.

Usability Testing Opportunities

For example, in usability testing, activities include conducting a pilot session and negotiating changes to tasks and scenarios. "Be sure to set expectations. There will be some chaos. Explain that you cannot get it right the first time. Explain that not all problems are the same. Make these opportunities to foster trust and mutual respect," said Dumas.

  Daniela Gran, Michael Flynn, Pamela Schmitt
  Attendees Daniela Gran, Michael Flynn, Pamela Schmitt
  Photo by Anne Louiselle

Expert Review Opportunities

In expert review, the usability specialists work with developers to set objectives, a user profile, and a common set of tasks. The usability specialists independently inspect the user interface, perform all tasks, work through all screens, and complete problem identification sheets. The usability specialists convene, form a consensus, prepare a presentation or report that lists the problems by severity, and sometimes propose solutions.

"Foster trust by deciding what is most important and consider leaving the rest out. Foster mutual respect by reviewing all comments for emphasis and tone and consider separate packaging of guideline violations. Don't ignore the guideline violations, but let the developers know that they are there and the five most important things that they need to do," suggested Dumas.

  Cynthia Whitty, Phyllis Beal, Nicole Cerimeli
  Attendees Cynthia Whitty, Phyllis Beal, Nicole Cerimeli
  Photo by Anne Louiselle

Usability Walk-through Opportunities

In a usability walk-through, usability specialists and developers walk through tasks step-by-step. They consider what the user will most likely do, and they locate problem areas. "This provides an opportunity for the developers to see how the usability specialists uncover issues and set priorities. They identify problems together and discuss the scope and severity of problems. This method has great potential to build trust in the relationship," said Dumas.

"Your relationship with developers counts. Ask yourself, are we good colleagues? Do we provide support when we bring bad news? The methods of usability evaluation uncover problems. Often, that's bad news. Ask yourself, did we set expectations with developers? The way you deal with developers is critical to the success of usability," said Dumas.

  Michael Ledoux, Cynthia Toryu, Julie Rodriguez
  Attendees Michael Ledoux, Cynthia Toryu, Julie Rodriguez
  Photo by Anne Louiselle

About the Speaker

Joe Dumas has a PhD in Cognitive Psychology and over 20 years of experience as a usability professional. He is a principal usability engineer at Oracle Corp. and has been a consultant on usability issues to many of the high-tech industry leaders, including Microsoft, Digital-Compaq, Lotus, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Kodak and the New York Stock Exchange. He is the author of Designing User Interfaces for Software. Dumas is an adjunct professor at Bentley College and teaches in the graduate program in Human Factors in Information Design.

Rating this STC Program

Attendees described the program as an excellent presentation. One commented that "Joe's wisdom and maturity are particularly impressive." Another commented that there was "good emphasis on the importance of relationship building" and "good grounding on the different usability methods." For more information on the programs of the Boston Chapter of STC, visit the chapter's Programs page (

Anne Louiselle has been a member of STC since 1997. She can be reached at .