CUA of the Month – January, 2010

Clare De Cleene
"As a CUA, you need to face people who outrank you and explain in a tactful way that you are there on behalf of the user. That this is not about ego trips – you're the rep of your site's audience because they're not there to do it themselves."

"You have to get across basic user-centered design concepts and principles, bring out the data, bring out the research and information, and try to convince the powers that be that the site is there for one purpose – to serve the user."
Clare De Cleene
Web Communications Manager
U.S. Courts Administrative Office

Usability Has Its Day in Court: Bringing a passion for user experience to the federal judiciary

by Douglas Gorney

Clare De Cleene is the Web Communications Manager at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), an agency in Washington D.C. established to assist the federal courts throughout the country by coordinating judiciary wide policy, budget, and administrative activities. As such, she manages two mission-critical intranet sites. That both sites reflect best practices of user centered design shouldn't be surprising, considering Clare's years of advocacy and practice of user experience.

"When I was tasked to put some order to the AO's web program 10 years ago, however," she says, "we had no repeatable processes, no procedures, no policies, no standards, nothing. And I knew next to nothing about running a Web program. I'd been a librarian and a project manager – suddenly I had responsibility for the AO's entire web strategy."

In those early days of the Web, Clare felt like a pioneer. There were relatively few people who knew anything about online strategies or user-centered design, much less who'd been trained in it. "But I'm an opportunist. I wasn't shy about asking for everything I thought I might need: staff, support and a budget for consulting and training."

"One of the first things I did was to get an outside review of our online program," said Clare, "of the web sites themselves, and our technical infrastructure. Was the technology going to support what we needed to do? Were our staffing structure and levels appropriate?"

Clare had HFI come in to do a major assessment. She worked with them closely, watching HFI's UX practitioners perform a heuristic review, test the AO's sites at individual federal courts throughout the country, record benchmark results and retest to look for improvements, using the process to learn as much as she could about user-centered design.

"It was a grand opportunity," Clare says. The experience convinced her that user-centered design could help her create a better online experience for all court employees using the AO's sites. So Clare soon took HFI classes herself, passed the Certified Usability Analyst examination and became a CUA.

HFI's assessment gave the AO important feedback on how to improve its technical platform, telling them they should upgrade their statistics software and invest in more servers (for redundancy) and in content management software (CMS).

"At the time a CMS was 'bleeding edge' technology," says Clare. "I didn't know better, so I jumped into it. The content management software greatly helped us standardize during the migration of content when we initiated the redesign of our two intranet sites – the J-Net, the AO's 80,000 page intranet for all federal courts, and the AO-Web, the AO's 10,000 page intranet for AO staff. It was no small job, as you might imagine. We spent many, many hours cleaning up the language and formatting to make it Web-friendly. If our content is dense and dull – written like a law – no one will read it!"

Clare's focused, user-centered design strategy has resulted in two highly effective intranet sites with innovative features that have drawn rave reviews. A series of eight videos posted on the J-Net site to orient its users won the Telly Awards bronze medal for employee communications. Clare was also asked to be a judge for the (federal government) Web Content Managers Best Practices Awards.

Clare's management style is strategic – she takes advantage of every opportunity to make sure her technical and content teams are fully staffed ("We have always been in a growth mode," she says) and fully trained to address the agency's emerging web issues.

"I thought, if HFI user-centered training was so good for me, I should offer courses for AO staff who create web content." Clare pulled strings for a special training budget to offer these courses, many conducted by HFI. She strongly encourages employees to get their CUA certification and offers ongoing, advanced UX courses, too. She also makes sure other stakeholders at the Administrative Office understand critical aspects of her user-centered design program.

"As we performed the J-Net and AOWeb migrations, we offered courses to staffers whose pages were affected, explaining why their content was being migrated into a centrally administered, uniform architecture and design. We showed them how to design for new content and test it. We needed stakeholders to understand our online strategy. Program managers now realize that their web pages are their single most important vehicle for shaping the message they need to get out to the courts. That helps them, but it also helps us a great deal."

Clare and the AO's Web program have come a long way since she was asked to make sense of several barely usable sites. At every step, she has taken full advantage of her HFI training and the UX resources that Human Factors made available to her. She feels she could not have succeeded without them.

"When I came into this job I had never done anything like this. But in managing the Web program I felt like I finally found what I really, really enjoy doing. This is my passion. Plus, I've essentially been getting a data dump from the brains of top usability experts, like those at HFI. After ten years of doing that, I'm good now."

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

Privacy policy

Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

This Privacy Policy governs the manner in which Human Factors International, Inc., an Iowa corporation ("HFI") collects, uses, maintains and discloses information collected from users (each, a "User") of its website and any derivative or affiliated websites on which this Privacy Policy is posted (collectively, the "Website"). HFI reserves the right, at its discretion, to change, modify, add or remove portions of this Privacy Policy at any time by posting such changes to this page. You understand that you have the affirmative obligation to check this Privacy Policy periodically for changes, and you hereby agree to periodically review this Privacy Policy for such changes. The continued use of the Website following the posting of changes to this Privacy Policy constitutes an acceptance of those changes.


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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

Cancellation of Course by HFI

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