CUA of the Month – March, 2010

Martin Edling Andersson
"What drew me to UX design was the empathy aspect of it. Trying to figure out how someone is going to react to something in a particular situation is perhaps the most humbling and exciting aspect of usability."
Martin Edling Andersson
User Experience Specialist
Reed Business

Ridiculously Passionate About Usability

by Diane Chojnowski

Martin Edling Andersson started using a Mac when he was six. Its intuitive interface design was easy to use and helped turn him on to the world of computers. When he was a teenager, he discovered his friends were using PCs with DOS command line interfaces, and it was quite a shock to him. He was surprised to encounter such a different user experience. He didn't know there was a science behind it. It was completely foreign to him and he was intrigued. This is where his interest in computer science started.

At the university in Sweden, he studied Informatics, C++ and programming languages, and algorithms. Then an exchange year in the UK, where he studied software engineering, opened his eyes to usability. As part of that curriculum, there was a series of usability lectures which captured his imagination. "It was completely different from managing software projects and writing code," said Martin. "Something about it captured my interest in a whole different way. So, when I came back to Sweden, I decided to switch from Informatics to Human Computer Interaction (HCI)."

With his IT and HCI education, Martin started his career as a technical consultant with a strong emphasis on usability. While he was working in the Netherlands as a software developer, he researched certifications and came across HFI's CUA program. At that time, he was doing programming with some usability. He had studied HCI as an academic degree, but he quickly realized that the real world is quite different than academics. "I mean the stuff about having 20 people to test with and plenty of time and the usability lab and all those can just forget that!" said Martin. "I wanted to have a more business-adjusted view of usability rather than just the academic point of view. The criteria are different when you conduct an academic study on usability and there is no budget involved!"

"Before I studied HCI, I studied psychology. You see all these models and how things are supposed to work. But in the business world, it's not as simple as understanding certain models. There are many factors to be considered and balanced out when using interfaces. When you go into the field of usability, you are considering the entire perception of the product. In one case, on a project, we used a red dot to indicate mandatory fields, only to have the client go completely bonkers over the red dot marking up the mandatory fields. This kind of reaction is interesting and answers the question of why I want to work in usability rather than software development. It's more rewarding and more up front. It's a more direct communication and very satisfying to get direct feedback when you work with the whole experience of the product."

"What drew me to UX design was the empathy aspect of it. You actually get to try to figure out how someone else is thinking about something and trying to adjust to that. It's kind of the opposite when you're studying informatics where it's more like "This IS the world – this is what you will be adjusting to" instead of the other way around. Trying to figure out how someone is going to react to something in a particular situation is perhaps the most humbling and exciting aspect of usability. Somehow with all your knowledge, you're still being proven wrong time and time again."

"Of course, I am less wrong now than when I started out. But, still it's a long way to go. You think you've figured a situation out with a certain interface or a certain design pattern and there is always someone who comes along who is going to use it in a completely different way. At least this is my experience. This was a surprise to me in the beginning, but now I expect it."

"I wanted to go deeper with HCI training, and the CUA courses helped me to have a pragmatic view on usability in a business context. That was the biggest benefit for me. And, the certification was good for my CV. There are quite a lot of people in the Netherlands with the CUA certification and the certification itself helps me talk to other people in the usability field."

Martin is now setting up usability processes at his second company. "When I arrived at my former company, there was no usability at all. They basically saw usability as graphic design. If it looked good, it was good. So, I introduced usability processes. When I started they didn't do any user research or testing, they just started coding and maybe sent a guy out to find out what a customer wanted. The problem with that approach is that when something doesn't work for the user, it's impossible to fix the code. You can put some gradient on it. But that's it."

"Bringing in usability as a part of the development process was an ongoing effort to help people see the value of user experience design. When they actually saw that tackling issues of user requirements and bringing a user-centric focus to the development process from the beginning saved money, they were convinced. It was a big challenge to educate people to understand the importance of user experience design. In two and a half years, I was able to establish guidelines and processes for usability and testing that brought all of the development projects into alignment with good heuristics and best usability practices."

"At my new company, Reed Business, my job is to set up user-centered analysis and design. I am setting up guidelines for how to work with and implement good usability processes. It's a very big task. Our IT group is outsourced and there is a business side that communicates requirements. They had done some marketing research but basically we are starting from scratch trying to find out who the user group really is and creating personas.

"This is an initiative to set up a user-centered way of working. We have the executive champions here and from the company perspective, it's a long-term investment. Reed understands the value of user-centered design and I am very excited that they chose me to implement it. My employer said they hired me because I am ridiculously passionate about usability. It's a big task and a huge responsibility. There is a restructuring happening here which will end up with the usability team available as a resource for all projects so that the UX team will be involved with development projects from the beginning."

"The best advice I can give someone considering a career in usability is to join user experience groups. There are lots of UX groups that meet and hold conferences and discussion. Join these. It's the easiest way to see different sides of the business and is the best way to broaden your experience. Getting the CUA certification is an excellent start, but you need to keep working on it if you want to be good. A good way to do this is to team up with other people. CUA Central is a good resource. It has been helpful to me especially since there are so many Dutch CUAs I can connect with there. I recently posted a question there to ask for approaches to a problem I had figuring out a user group when we had no user research. It has helped a lot to get feedback from other UX professionals."

It's interesting to note that Martin is still a fan of the Mac. "The Mac culture is a big community here and provides a reference point and common ground for user experience."

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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