Usability design engineers make a myriad of consumer products easier
to use. And in today's technical age, they're in great demand.
"When a person interacts with a functional object -- anything from opening
a box of cereal, to playing a video game, to driving a car, to ordering merchandise
over the web, they're encountering usability," says Barbee Teasley. She is
an interface design expert.
The term "interface design expert" is commonly used for those who specialize
in websites and software products.
There is a wide range of companies that employ usability design engineers.
"These companies range from software houses to telecommunications, aerospace,
insurance, finance and electronics. They are also employed by companies that
make electronic devices such as cellphones...and games," says Teasley.
She says that when a device or software product is being designed, it's
the usability engineer who makes sure it will be as usable as possible. And
there's definitely a growing need for them.
"More and more companies and organizations are coming to realize that safety,
profitability and consumer satisfaction are influenced by usability. Consumers
are becoming more demanding, too. They want technology to work for them and
make their lives better -- not confuse and frustrate them," says Teasley.
Saul Greenberg is a computer science professor. He says that what might
be fun to program rarely matches what users need and how they think. That's
where usability engineers, or what he calls interface professionals, are put
"Everyone has experienced software that is awkward and frustrating to use.
Most of these were developed without the involvement of interface professionals,"
"You will certainly find interface designers at most large companies: Intel,
Microsoft and so on. Increasingly, mid- and small-sized companies are also
hiring interface designers, for they now realize that consumers are becoming
increasingly more selective about the software they want to buy," Greenberg
Alfred Coppola is the chief usability architect at a company that has branches
in Canada and the U.S. He says never before has there been such a need for
usability design engineers.
"The broad discipline of usability has become very relevant to consumer
websites recently due to the rapid success and deployment of the Internet,"
"It's only recently, as more and more people from a greater variety of
backgrounds and training are getting on to personal computers, that more and
more companies involved with software development at any level are starting
to recognize the importance of usability design," says Jenni Merrifield. She
is a user interaction designer.
There is an increasing need for formal education and training in order
to enter this field. "Most usability engineers have a master's degree or PhD
in the field or in related fields such as cognitive psychology, computer science,
anthropology, industrial engineering, ergonomics, sociology or industrial
design," says Teasley.
"The usability engineer has to understand how people interact naturally
with technology; what they like and dislike; what they need to do certain
tasks that the product or system is designed to support; when, where and why
they are likely to get stuck -- and do their best to prevent this," says Gitte
Lindgaard. Lindgaard is a professor of user-centered design.
She says usability engineers are HCI (human-computer interaction) specialists
who come from a variety of backgrounds. These include psychology, computer
science, information technology, linguistics, design and architecture.
Teasley says people interested in this field should also have a passion
for making things easier for people to do. "When someone is struggling with
a computer, for example, [a good usability engineer's] first thought is not
that the person is stupid. Instead, their first thought is someone designed
that interface wrong."
"It's also a good idea to have a developed sense for design, which includes
an appreciation for graphic design, and layout design for communication and
publishing," says Merrifield.
She says it's important to be creative, logical, empathetic and have technical
"So long as the personal computer continues to spread among the populations,
the need for usability design engineers and their ilk will continue to grow,"
Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Computer-Human
Interaction (ACM SIGCHI)
Varied information for those interested in the field of human-computer
Usability Professionals' Association
Provides network opportunities for usability professionals
Usability First: Website Design
This site provides resources for anyone interested in working
in website usability