CUA of the Month – January, 2015

Chris DeFields
“Analytics data may suggest a problem, lead to additional needs analysis and usability studies, and eventually result in projects to enhance or build new web applications.”
Chris DeFields
Senior Research Analyst

UX Meets Digital Metrics Analytics

by Jim Garrett

After eleven years of UX design, our Certified Usability Analyst of the Month, Chris DeFields, is moving into the area of Digital Analytics. As Senior Research Analyst at a large US-based insurance company, Chris is learning to use analytics to understand the ways people interact with digital applications.

His background combines user experience for both consumers and sales associates with interaction design and business knowledge in insurance and financial services products. Chris has joined a team of seven to use this background to help further understand how people interact with his company’s digital properties.

You have your CUA and CXA?

I completed the CUA in 2012 and the CXA in 2013.  I think that both of those were pretty fascinating with respect to accomplishments and packaging all that I have learned through the years about user experience. The CUA identified the needs analysis and design methodologies. The CXA puts the “ah-ha” into the methodology. The CXA teaches how to understand the people; not only what they are doing but also why they are doing it. This is huge: I know plenty of web applications that we thought were perfect, but when tested, they didn’t work at all. I really appreciate how the methodology affords for both formal, structured designing, and for more rapid, innovative approaches.

Are you on a team of other usability specialists?

I have served in many of the roles needed in user-centered design, from leading the analysis and designing interactions to prototyping and usability testing. I am now a member of a group specializing in data analytics. With this team, I am learning to use data to understand how people interact with digital applications.

Can you talk about what you are doing with it?

Many web sites and applications monitor how people interact with them; this is information that helps us understand what people actually do. For example, we can understand how frequently people use online help, how often they successfully complete a transaction, or how often and the types of error messages they receive. I am learning new ways to use this information to identify potential trouble spots or enhancement opportunities on our sites or in our processes.

Where does it go from there, after your research and your findings?

Analytics allows us to monitor process efficiencies and make data-driven decisions when prioritizing future work. This is a team effort, where data may suggest a problem, lead to additional needs analysis and usability studies, and eventually result in projects to enhance or build new web applications.

 Does this connect to the CUA/CXA approach?

Yes, it does; it gives us a view of what people actually do on our sites. In the spirit of Lean/Six-Sigma, it allows us to monitor behavior and look for anomalies worth further study. Data analytics is an input to user needs and root-cause problem analysis.   

Do you see digital analytics as becoming a bigger part of the UX usability field?

There is that opportunity, because it provides a chance to follow and trend the information that we gather. We are able to find those moments when peoples’ interactions and the intended design of our sites differ. It can help us find problems before customers complain about something. We can monitor drop-off rates in an application. We can see people leaving our site and note when this happens more on some pages than others. Use of digital analytics is a proactive way to look for potential problems.

In usability testing, we try to identify the majority of big problems users will encounter. However, what about the other design problems? And, what about monitoring how our site or application actually performs compared with what we set as experience requirements? For example, perhaps a specific process should take customers less than 10 minutes. Digital analytics allows us to measure how long it takes a person to complete a process. We can set benchmark metrics and then monitor and trend changes over time. 

Customers are increasingly demanding efficient and effective digital processes in so many industries, including insurance and financial services. To remain competitive, we want to know where our processes are efficient, where they are inefficient, and what are we doing about it.

Are you still working with UX projects?

For many years, I have worked on UX projects. With the help of human factors mentors and training courses which prepared me for the CUA and CXA exams, I eventually came to understand the big picture of user experience rather than just the individual parts. People tell me I’m passionate about UX, and I have learned to apply it in many life experiences, not just web design. While I am no longer specifically leading user experience studies or web design projects, the concepts continue to apply. People come to our team seeking information to help answer questions. We spend time understanding their needs, identifying possible metrics, scrutinizing potential solutions, and designing and delivering reports, dashboards, and infographics. While I am not quite the “UX unicorn” we all wish we could be, spending time learning how to do and use digital analytics is a great benefit to me and my company.

In the past, I was part of teams designing business management platforms, sales and service applications, travel planning sites, style guides, physical office environments, and most recently, knowledge management interfaces. The problems and solutions vary significantly, but the approach remains the same. I am thankful for my mentor and for the HFI training, without which, I may know little more about “UX” than how it is spelled. It is very satisfying to see how all I have learned has helped improve designs.

CUA of the Month

Each month we highlight the successes and achievements of a different member of our CUA community. If you are a Certified Usability Analyst and would like to be considered for CUA of the Month recognition, please send a brief professional bio to

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