CUA of the Month – July, 2014

Leon King
“If you are doing a good job, you are raising the boat across the entire company higher rather than just a particular product. It is unimaginably rewarding coming to work when you are in a position to have that scale of impact.”
Mike Berg
User Experience Central

UX Ground Zero at Microsoft

by Jim Garrett

At the center of supporting four hundred usability professionals and fifty-eight testing labs at Microsoft, is our Certified Usability Analyst of the Month, Michael Berg.

Michael is with User Experience Central, ground zero for supporting testing and technology. He started as a contractor at Microsoft in 2001, and was the first person to become a CUA at the company.

Tell me about your role at Microsoft.

The group I work for is an operations team. We are called User Experience Central and essentially we are a centralized body that acts to support user research across the company.  My customer, or user, is a user researcher or usability professional.  There are about four hundred usability professionals at the company. These are my end users and they work across virtually all Microsoft products or product groups.  Our goal as a team is to support usability work across the company with our product portfolio.

So you work in a group that supports all of the other usability experts?

Yes. Our team manages our usability resources. We have fifty-eight labs located in Redmond, Fargo, Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Massachusetts.  And we have new labs coming online in Seattle and London. We have a database of participants who have enrolled in our program and we continue to refresh it.  Our database is about 1.1 million users globally today. We also support needs such as research incentives, tax reporting, document artifact archiving, and legal processes.  We license tools on behalf of our research community, and fund various sponsorships and community events. In a nutshell, we identify, plan and manage the resources that enable user experience research to happen at Microsoft.

Can you explain that a little more?

If you work in Microsoft’s Xbox group, for example, you have a strategy for how you are going to tackle UX work in the Xbox field. It comes from within that local organization and any training, any design standards, any standards for research practices are all driven locally within the Xbox team.  They would come to us, however, if they needed a facility to run a study, or if they are looking to have participants screened and scheduled for any upcoming studies. If they need to think about incentives for the participants, they could have us handle tax reporting. They may need help with planning study logistics, or working with legal requirements for a particular study need. It is a support role, and the support spans across our wide audience of researchers.

Can you give examples of some of the information you would send up the line to these user groups?

The way it works is that they would come to us and they would request resources.  They’ll say, “I want to do a remote usability study four weeks from today and I am looking for an audience in Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Silicon Valley with this profile.”  Our job is to supply the technology that they would use for that remote study. If they want to use the usability lab while they are conducting that remote study, we may book that lab and make sure that it is configured so that it supports that remote study.

We would also look for likely candidates for the study and we screen them against the profile. Once we have confirmed that they fit profile criteria, we schedule them for the study. We send the participants information about what is expected for the study and how they can participate.  There is follow through after the study as well.  We make sure the incentives get to them and we make sure that we collect and store non-disclosure agreements if that is involved.

Is that a challenge orienting your deliverables and successfully satisfying requests from all these varied customers?

It is a strong challenge for sure because the needs of the Bing team are very different from the needs of the Windows team which are very different from the needs of the team that works on our developer tools.  We just have a very wide ranging audience that is all looking to one place for support and technology. The support for testing needs can be really varied.

Is your group involved with design?

I wouldn’t call it one of our core functions or maybe even one of our core skills as a team, but because our audience is so large, it is common for us to have to build tools or programs to support needs here. We end up getting into creating and designing either a process for how to do research or a tool that makes up for it.  So we have a few proprietary tools that help us to support research at that kind of scale, and these are designed in-house with our wide-ranging users in mind.

What you are currently working on?

We are exploring things like online screening of participants and see if that is able to have an impact on how soon we can get participants into studies. Panels have become a new thing for us.  Agile feedback has become much more important, so we have experimented with having users on standby who are known to meet certain profile criteria so that we can get them into studies more quickly. And we’re doing more work with internal participants these days, to support those same needs for user input. We’ve also seen a lot of focus on accessibility research and in involving more non-local and international users in our studies.

Any new challenges you see coming up or any new directions for your group?

I think that our interactions with participants are changing quite a bit.  Rather than a traditional lab with a one-way glass, the focus is more on fluid interactions with participants. It is more common to see a need and then just interview, or just to talk to somebody to gather information rather than the old fashioned strict evaluations.  There is a need for very loose creative methods in how we source feedback from users and how we engage them in our product life cycles. We’re experimenting with new lab designs, new tools to support low-fi, or more ad hoc research needs.

 It takes them out of being lab rats and more as people.

Right!  Exactly.  Contacts and variability between users that fit your profile is more interesting or more of a focus than it has been.

You have both the CUA and the CXA, was there a difference it made in your work?

It is such an integrated skill set that you feel more empowered – like you could move forward and apply the skills in a very practical way immediately. It was wonderful because that credibility made you feel empowered to push a user centered approach to a project on this end and show that you could back up your decision.

The CXA expanded my thinking about UX strategy as a company and how your strategy matures as your competence in UX does.  There is a concept in the UX tract of can’t do versus will do.   Usability is a can do.  The user completes the task successfully as intended, whereas the CXA really focuses on what do they want to do and are they enjoying doing it. It takes it to that next level because you think about new products.  How do you introduce new products? How do you think about your competencies and your strategies as a company or team or organization?  CXA really gets into how do you move forward with a product portfolio, or how do you think about introducing a new product into the landscape.   It is like CUA on steroids.  It’s awesome!

 What do you enjoy about your work at Microsoft the most?

If you are doing it right, you are making a difference here.  The impact can be very great.  It is like you drop a pebble and it becomes a wave.  By supporting usability research as a larger discipline, you are kind of impacting all of the products.  If you are doing a good job, you are raising the boat across the entire company higher rather than just a particular product.  It is unimaginably rewarding coming to work when you are in a position to have that scale of impact.

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.


HFI may use "cookies" or "web beacons" to track how Users use the Website. A cookie is a piece of software that a web server can store on Users’ PCs and use to identify Users should they visit the Website again. Users may adjust their web browser software if they do not wish to accept cookies. To withdraw your consent after accepting a cookie, delete the cookie from your computer.


HFI believes that every User should know how it utilizes the information collected from Users. The Website is not directed at children under 13 years of age, and HFI does not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from children under 13 years of age online. Please note that the Website may contain links to other websites. These linked sites may not be operated or controlled by HFI. HFI is not responsible for the privacy practices of these or any other websites, and you access these websites entirely at your own risk. HFI recommends that you review the privacy practices of any other websites that you choose to visit.

HFI is based, and this website is hosted, in the United States of America. If User is from the European Union or other regions of the world with laws governing data collection and use that may differ from U.S. law and User is registering an account on the Website, visiting the Website, purchasing products or services from HFI or the Website, or otherwise using the Website, please note that any personally identifiable information that User provides to HFI will be transferred to the United States. Any such personally identifiable information provided will be processed and stored in the United States by HFI or a service provider acting on its behalf. By providing your personally identifiable information, User hereby specifically and expressly consents to such transfer and processing and the uses and disclosures set forth herein.

In the course of its business, HFI may perform expert reviews, usability testing, and other consulting work where personal privacy is a concern. HFI believes in the importance of protecting personal information, and may use measures to provide this protection, including, but not limited to, using consent forms for participants or "dummy" test data.

The Information HFI Collects

Users browsing the Website without registering an account or affirmatively providing personally identifiable information to HFI do so anonymously. Otherwise, HFI may collect personally identifiable information from Users in a variety of ways. Personally identifiable information may include, without limitation, (i)contact data (such as a User’s name, mailing and e-mail addresses, and phone number); (ii)demographic data (such as a User’s zip code, age and income); (iii) financial information collected to process purchases made from HFI via the Website or otherwise (such as credit card, debit card or other payment information); (iv) other information requested during the account registration process; and (v) other information requested by our service vendors in order to provide their services. If a User communicates with HFI by e-mail or otherwise, posts messages to any forums, completes online forms, surveys or entries or otherwise interacts with or uses the features on the Website, any information provided in such communications may be collected by HFI. HFI may also collect information about how Users use the Website, for example, by tracking the number of unique views received by the pages of the Website, or the domains and IP addresses from which Users originate. While not all of the information that HFI collects from Users is personally identifiable, it may be associated with personally identifiable information that Users provide HFI through the Website or otherwise. HFI may provide ways that the User can opt out of receiving certain information from HFI. If the User opts out of certain services, User information may still be collected for those services to which the User elects to subscribe. For those elected services, this Privacy Policy will apply.

How HFI Uses Information

HFI may use personally identifiable information collected through the Website for the specific purposes for which the information was collected, to process purchases and sales of products or services offered via the Website if any, to contact Users regarding products and services offered by HFI, its parent, subsidiary and other related companies in order to otherwise to enhance Users’ experience with HFI. HFI may also use information collected through the Website for research regarding the effectiveness of the Website and the business planning, marketing, advertising and sales efforts of HFI. HFI does not sell any User information under any circumstances.

Disclosure of Information

HFI may disclose personally identifiable information collected from Users to its parent, subsidiary and other related companies to use the information for the purposes outlined above, as necessary to provide the services offered by HFI and to provide the Website itself, and for the specific purposes for which the information was collected. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information at the request of law enforcement or governmental agencies or in response to subpoenas, court orders or other legal process, to establish, protect or exercise HFI’s legal or other rights or to defend against a legal claim or as otherwise required or allowed by law. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information in order to protect the rights, property or safety of a User or any other person. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information to investigate or prevent a violation by User of any contractual or other relationship with HFI or the perpetration of any illegal or harmful activity. HFI may also disclose aggregate, anonymous data based on information collected from Users to investors and potential partners. Finally, HFI may disclose or transfer personally identifiable information collected from Users in connection with or in contemplation of a sale of its assets or business or a merger, consolidation or other reorganization of its business.

Personal Information as Provided by User

If a User includes such User’s personally identifiable information as part of the User posting to the Website, such information may be made available to any parties using the Website. HFI does not edit or otherwise remove such information from User information before it is posted on the Website. If a User does not wish to have such User’s personally identifiable information made available in this manner, such User must remove any such information before posting. HFI is not liable for any damages caused or incurred due to personally identifiable information made available in the foregoing manners. For example, a User posts on an HFI-administered forum would be considered Personal Information as provided by User and subject to the terms of this section.

Security of Information

Information about Users that is maintained on HFI’s systems or those of its service providers is protected using industry standard security measures. However, no security measures are perfect or impenetrable, and HFI cannot guarantee that the information submitted to, maintained on or transmitted from its systems will be completely secure. HFI is not responsible for the circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures relating to the Website by any Users or third parties.

Correcting, Updating, Accessing or Removing Personal Information

If a User’s personally identifiable information changes, or if a User no longer desires to receive non-account specific information from HFI, HFI will endeavor to provide a way to correct, update and/or remove that User’s previously-provided personal data. This can be done by emailing a request to HFI at Additionally, you may request access to the personally identifiable information as collected by HFI by sending a request to HFI as set forth above. Please note that in certain circumstances, HFI may not be able to completely remove a User’s information from its systems. For example, HFI may retain a User’s personal information for legitimate business purposes, if it may be necessary to prevent fraud or future abuse, for account recovery purposes, if required by law or as retained in HFI’s data backup systems or cached or archived pages. All retained personally identifiable information will continue to be subject to the terms of the Privacy Policy to which the User has previously agreed.

Contacting HFI

If you have any questions or comments about this Privacy Policy, you may contact HFI via any of the following methods:
Human Factors International, Inc.
PO Box 2020
1680 highway 1, STE 3600
Fairfield IA 52556
(800) 242-4480

Terms and Conditions for Public Training Courses

Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

Cancellation of Course by HFI

HFI reserves the right to cancel any course up to 14 (fourteen) days prior to the first day of the course. Registrants will be promptly notified and will receive a full refund or be transferred to the equivalent class of their choice within a 12-month period. HFI is not responsible for travel expenses or any costs that may be incurred as a result of cancellations.

Cancellation of Course by Participants (All regions except India)

$100 processing fee if cancelling within two weeks of course start date.

Cancellation / Transfer by Participants (India)

4 Pack + Exam registration: Rs. 10,000 per participant processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the course (4 Pack-CUA/CXA) registration before three weeks from the course start date. No refund or carry forward of the course fees if cancelling or transferring the course registration within three weeks before the course start date.

Cancellation / Transfer by Participants (Online Courses)

$100 processing fee if cancelling within two weeks of course start date. No cancellations or refunds less than two weeks prior to the first course start date.

Individual Modules: Rs. 3,000 per participant ‘per module’ processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the course (any Individual HFI course) registration before three weeks from the course start date. No refund or carry forward of the course fees if cancelling or transferring the course registration within three weeks before the course start date.

Exam: Rs. 3,000 per participant processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the pre agreed CUA/CXA exam date before three weeks from the examination date. No refund or carry forward of the exam fees if requesting/cancelling or transferring the CUA/CXA exam within three weeks before the examination date.

No Recording Permitted

There will be no audio or video recording allowed in class. Students who have any disability that might affect their performance in this class are encouraged to speak with the instructor at the beginning of the class.

Course Materials Copyright

The course and training materials and all other handouts provided by HFI during the course are published, copyrighted works proprietary and owned exclusively by HFI. The course participant does not acquire title nor ownership rights in any of these materials. Further the course participant agrees not to reproduce, modify, and/or convert to electronic format (i.e., softcopy) any of the materials received from or provided by HFI. The materials provided in the class are for the sole use of the class participant. HFI does not provide the materials in electronic format to the participants in public or onsite courses.