CUA of the Month – August, 2013

Marco Pretorius
"Mostly people would just say, “well you know it’s the user’s fault,” or “they need to be trained,” but I believe that you can put a product out there that is immediately intuitive."
Marco Pretorius
Usability Team Leader e-Government for Citizens,
Western Cape Government

UX Affecting Change in South Africa

by Jim Garrett

For our CUA this month, we travel to South Africa where UX is in the pioneering stage. At the center of this development is our CUA of the month, Marco Pretorius, our first CUA from South Africa.

Marco is Usability Team Leader at e-Government for Citizens at the Western Cape Government (WCG) in South Africa.

His directorate, e-Government for Citizens, has four main functions: Internet Portal, Intranet, Contact Centre (walk-in, call and e-mail), and Cape Access, where they provide access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to poor and rural communities across the Western Cape. His role is to institutionalize and manage UX.

Marco took his CUA training in California in 2007, as the CUA training courses weren’t widely offered in South Africa at that time. HFI CUA and CXA training is now available in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. Marco has also completed two of the CXA courses.

Here is his remarkable story as a UX champion.

It seems like you pretty much started from scratch there, Marco, so what was your first step in proposing this and getting this going?

In 2004, the Western Cape Government started an e-Government website which was a pioneering piece of work back then and they were widely recognized for it. But up to 2009, not many improvements were made and users quickly started to ask questions.

When I came on board, I immediately did some evaluations on the site. As a simple example, there were icons that nobody could understand. I arranged focus groups that included departments, citizens, and employees. I would show them icons without any text and ask them what it means and just talk to them about the whole site. Participants noted that one of the icons looked like a little male and female which actually looked more like a little toilet sign, which was in fact a sign for "speeches." Through those first focus groups we learned so much about what is wrong and where people are struggling. Through that people started to notice and 4 or 5 months later we had a new version on the home page. People thought it was a whole new website.

Was there any point in your work that you felt was a watershed moment, a breakthrough where it really started moving?

As an early breakthrough, I moved for a larger team and so my first member of my team was a web designer. He did some amazing things to help us out. With small graphical improvements, and use of images, people started to take notice of the website. After that, other people with other systems would come and say, "listen we want the same sort of thing." I think that was a breakthrough moment — where people started to say, “OK, this usability thing can actually help us.”

I completed my PhD using the Western Cape Government (WCG) as a case study. The topic was on institutionalizing UX in Government. This research really helped me to institutionalize UX in the WCG. Big breakthrough moments as a result of this research were incorporating UX into the SDLC, delivering official WCG UX policy, strategy and guidelines, and creating the first usability lab for a South African government.

Your role is to provide access to ICT to poor and rural communities across the Western Cape?

That’s one of our programs in our directorate. We look after our internet sites, the intranet, and the contact center—where people can actually walk in and ask for government services. We’ve got thirty-four centers in rural areas where we provide people with the international computer driver’s license training. There’s a lot of potential our centers can offer in South Africa in the Western Cape.

The majority of our people do not have the e-skills. You need to provide basic training to people who have never used a computer and for most of the younger people, their first interaction with a computer is with a mobile phone. That’s a sort of mind set that we need to adopt. There is a big e-Government focus, but we need to ensure that citizens can utilize e-Government. UX and Cape Access training will go a far way in achieving this.

How can you measure your success with the poor and rural communities?

By talking to citizens. We did a usability study recently in the lab for an online bursary site. I specifically asked for students in grade 12 which I knew did not have much computer experience. You know, they struggled so much on this system, which everybody thought was fantastic but developed out of a programmer’s point of view. When stakeholders saw those videos they said, “We need to look at this!” Our goal for the next year is to actually go out to these Cape Access centers in our rural areas and do some more user research to find out what sort of e-Government services people would need, how they interact with technology, and what technology they have available. You know, when you talk about mobile, the assumption is often made that everybody’s got an iPhone or android phone, but in South Africa, we’re some years away before everybody has a smart phone.

What projects are you currently working on?

We are currently migrating from a very old content management system on our main citizen website, a project that is very near completion. We are then going into an enhancement project, where we will improve the UX and content of identified sections of our site. I’m really looking forward to this project, as every single new thing that comes out needs to go through the usability lab. Then we are also working on a beta site concept to improve the overall information architecture.

A project we are ready to launch internally is what we call a UX Toolkit website. Here we provide wireframe and design templates for commonly used elements of the system, such as signing in and creating an account. The goal is to provide a consistent usable experience on all our systems. We also envision coding to be provided — so this will save a lot of development time and costs. This site will also be made available nationally to all South African provincial governments — so that our UX lessons are shared with the rest of the community.

What do you think is the most significant thing that you learned from the CUA training?

What I enjoyed the most about the CUA training was the real life examples. Not only did I like the academic part of it, but a lot of real examples that were shown were great. One of the CXA courses talked about user research in India, and they’re also a third world country, so I’ve tried to apply many of those things in my own environment and research.

Has there been anything specific from the training that you’ve applied that you weren’t doing before?

I find the CXA knowledge really interesting at the moment. I’ve completed the Persuasion, Emotion, and Trust course. Usability has evolved into user experience with persuasion being one of those aspects. I’ll give an example. We’re starting to look where usability would have said you want to do something as quickly as possible on this page and let the user go. Now we’re trying to see how we can actually still let them do something as easily as possible but also how can we keep the user there or how can we make them go and view new content. So that persuasion part I find really interesting; and that is something we are trying to apply in our environment.

That’s the next step to the next level isn’t it?

And for me the difference between usability and user experience is those extra levels — something being desirable and having that sort of value.

Since your work improves peoples’ lives, it must give you great satisfaction.

I’ve got a passion for UX and I love my job, but part of why I work in government is that I really think we can make a difference in South Africa. I’ve worked on systems in usability labs and in observations, and you see how these people struggle. Mostly people would just say, “well you know it’s the user’s fault” or “they need to be trained,” but I believe that you can put a product out there that is immediately intuitive. One of the things I’m looking forward to is to see those rural area users beginning to adopt e-Government. First of all, we want to roll out more e-services. We want to climb in the e-Government levels and once we roll out those services I want to see that those lesser-skilled users can actually use the thing.

Doesn’t this move UX into improving the social order?

I did a presentation with some of the top management and one of the slides that I showed them really brought it home. I created two user profiles. One was of a lady who works on the internet every day. She does electronic banking and has access to all these technologies. For her we have a nice picture of someone in front of a computer. For the second profile we have a picture of a woman with a very old phone in her hand in a rural area with a very poor shack behind her. This lady has never used a computer; she doesn’t have access to a facility like an internet café. When I put those two pictures next to each other it really made an impact — these are the profiles we need to consider.

It’s very heartwarming to see what you’re doing and the effect it’s going to have on people. We’re really honored to have you as CUA of the Month.

I must say it’s a tremendous honor for me to be the CUA of the month especially when you say it’s the first in South Africa. I’m really proud of that. Thank you very much.

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

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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