CUA of the Month – May, 2010

David Prahl
"Having our developers and stakeholders on a call with a user, even as a fly on the wall – to hear in the user's own words what they find challenging or difficult – is so energizing to the team. It inspires everyone to come up with better solutions and gets us around the politics involved in getting a job done on time and on budget. It really centers the entire team almost instantly on where we need to go and why."
David Prahl
Marketing & Web Manager
American Imaging Management

Perpetual UX Student

by Diane Chojnowski

David Prahl has one foot in Marketing and one foot in IT. As Marketing & Web Manager for American Imaging Management (AIM), Dave's job is to increase the use, satisfaction, and value of the company's web applications. His two-part strategy for doing this is a combination of both web marketing and web application improvements.

AIM, a utilization management company, leverages innovative web technologies to manage the high cost of healthcare. For example, when someone is getting a CT or an MRI, the physician's office uses the AIM website to submit a pre-authorization request for the exam. They've developed a clinical decision engine that measures the clinical appropriateness of a test for a particular patient and determines whether it is medically necessary. Starting out in radiology, the company has now expanded into cardiology, as well as, specialty pharmaceutical products.

With a degree in Industrial Design, Dave pursued a graphic design career and worked his way up through the ranks: Graphic Designer, Senior Graphic Artist, Art Director, Creative Director, and through that process learned a lot about web design. "In the early 90s I was doing a lot of web design work." said Dave, "Like a lot of people in graphic design work, I started diversifying into corporate website design. Around 2000, I started developing web applications, which was a completely different animal – a lot more things to consider, a lot more information to fit on the screen. Although I'm a newer CUA, I feel that to some extent, I've been considering usability for quite a while in those kinds of web applications."

"Human factors was a part of my undergrad industrial design studies with regard to designing for users. To a certain extent, I had some of that knowledge with me as I moved into graphic and web design, but I didn't put two and two together. I started doing more and more application design for AIM, and in that process, I was constantly searching for usability advice, patterns, or examples. I kept stumbling upon the concept of usability, and found out about HFI. It was through that discovery process that I decided that becoming a CUA and studying usability was a good idea. It's like the early 90s, when a lot of graphic designers were diversifying their skill set into web design. It's a new frontier now, where a lot of designers are diversifying into usability.

PET design was the first course offering that attracted Dave to HFI training. He attended the very first PET design course taught by Eric Schaffer in Baltimore. Although Dave came from a marketing perspective, his class was full of people who had traditional CUA backgrounds.

"I definitely came into usability in a different way from most CUAs. I was a marketing guy who was interested in PET design first, to see how it integrates with web & application design, and then came into the usability course work after that. I liked the PET design course a lot, and I was inspired to go back and get my CUA training. Graphic design is abstract and subjective – either it looks good or it doesn't. It's attractive to me to integrate the scientific knowledge with the artistic."

"While there were familiar marketing concepts in PET design, like framing and branding, there was a lot of rich information about how that applies specifically to interfaces and staging. Things like compliance laddering were new and informative concepts for me. The PET interview process itself was interesting to me because it was completely new.

"As a matter of fact, we just did a PET study of our user base with HFI. We also did a PET Expert Review of our application and PET interviews in a couple of states. We learned a lot from that interview process, and personally I feel that the information we gained from doing a PET study vs. a traditional usability study has almost twice the value. As a marketing person I can address the blocks and drives of users, and as an interface designer there is direct feedback, so we almost get double the value from that study.

"I'm currently working on developing a core usability group at our company. We've been doing web design and we've been developing applications, and we've involved users to a certain extent. But we never had a solid or repeatable methodology for usability. It saves a lot of time and money if you can build in usability at the beginning of a development project rather than having to go back to retrofit.

"Over the last five years, AIM grew exponentially. We were developing a lot of applications very quickly and getting them to market. But there is always a trade-off for that. The trade-off was that we developed these applications as one-offs or spin-offs, so now as an organization we are facing maintenance issues and looking for ways to improve the efficiencies. The most tangible benefit of my training with HFI has been to learn to incorporate standards, and to integrate usability as a regular and repeatable process within our organization – to really make it part of our core process.

"Everyone at AIM understands the value of usability. Since my training, we immediately incorporated what I learned into our process. We did remote user testing and we did iterative design. We learned a lot from it. As a result, our new specialty pharmaceutical product was better informed and better accepted, and we're having great success with it. It was the first truly iterative user-driven project that we had here at AIM.

"Right now, I'm the only CUA at AIM, but this year we are introducing other members of our staff to the training as well. Obviously, the first part is getting everyone on the same page and trained. But the second part of this is to develop a core strategy, which is our next step. I've read Eric and Susan's books. Eric's book, Institutionalization of Usability, is the field guide to doing this as a corporation. I think half my book is highlighted!"

Dave enjoys learning and finding new principals and guidelines, but the thing he most enjoys is talking with the users. He explains, "Having our developers and stakeholders on a call with a user, even as a fly on the wall – to hear in the user's own words what they find challenging or difficult – is so energizing to the team. It inspires everyone to come up with better solutions and gets us around the politics involved in getting a job done on time and on budget. It really centers the entire team almost instantly on where we need to go and why."

Dave is currently enrolled in a Human Computer Interaction (HCI) masters program at DePaul University. He feels CUA training is a great way to go deeply into the field of user experience in a two-week time frame. This knowledge has provided him with the core information to help him move through the coursework in his degree program, giving him a huge advantage in his classes. Dave says, "Everything I'm learning now is really a reinforcement of those concepts and a deeper dive into each of them."

"Without a doubt, CUA training has given me more credibility within my organization," Dave says. "I'm looked to as the expert on user experience issues. Although we all know the users are the real experts, AIM has raised the bar on the standard that we want for user experience. Just the fact that they invested in this education for us tells the company that user experience is important.

"What I'm most proud of at AIM, is having a hand in the design of every application, both internal and external. It's provided a great wealth of experience doing everything from call center applications, administrative tools, clinical tools, maintenance tools, our intranet, as well as our external physician portal where users go to get pre-authorizations, and assessment tools. There's a wide range of experience that we've gained from all that. There's something to be learned from each of those projects.

"I would say to someone considering getting into this field that usability is a great field with almost unlimited career paths and opportunities right now. Beyond web applications, the field of user experience design expands into cell phones, video games, control panels and medical equipment. It reaches into almost anything that you can interact with."

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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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

Cancellation of Course by HFI

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