Bridging the achievement gap: Usability Experts

I remember when I first started using Macs. I hated them. But I am now writing this on my treasured Mac, because a friend was able to say, “Oh, ‘Apple C is Control C” – she was computer platform bilingual: she could speak PC and Mac. Today, I can speak both.

That background makes me appreciate a workplace specialty I just read about in the New York Times: usability specialists. According to a Times article, geophysist Eric Danas claims, “The users of our products don’t really care about the technology. They just have a job they’re trying to do. We bridge the gap between what technology is capable of doing and what users want to achieve.”

The part that interested me about the usability field is that the backgrounds of the folks who “untangle technology” by concentrating on what it does rather than why it does it. They have very diverse backgrounds: geophysics and linguistics and psychology and more.

And, Alexis de Toqueville could have predicted this: usability folks have groups, and have meetings, the Usability Professionals’ Association and The Society for Technical Communication for starters.

It probably all works. Jonathan Nightengale, one of the authors of “Kicking and Screaming: Modernizing Today’s Help Menus” came from IBM and was at the time of the article working for Mozilla.

The most interesting thing about the Times article, however, was that thinking about it and searching the topic on the web as I read (as I tend to do) brought me full circle to my beloved New England and a partnership between two colleges that I would not have predicted would be collaborating on something with as lofty a title as “World Usability Day.” If you are interested and free November 8, 2007, check out what is happening in Hanover, NH.

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