by Jim Garrett
Our Certified Usability Analyst of the Month, Shweta Sharma Walia, is on a mission: global standardization for usability adherence and assessment. She feels it begins with her work at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India, and hopefully will spread globally.
As Manager and Consultant – Usability Assurance CoE (Center of Excellence), Shweta leads the Usability Assurance CoE and is responsible for proposing, delivering, and assetizing usability testing solutions for their existing and potential customers. She has helped her team by sharing and teaching them the core principles of usability, user-centered design, usability reviews, testing, and much more. She has conceptualized and contributed with a large number of assets that help focus, standardize, and accelerate output across the user-centered design process.
TCS is an IT services, consulting and business solutions organization that offers a consulting led, integrated portfolio of IT, BPS, infrastructure, engineering and assurance services. As part of the Tata group, India’s largest industrial conglomerate, TCS has over 344,000 of the world’s best trained consultants in 46 countries. TCS currently has more than eight hundred active customers from a diverse universe of banking and financial services, energy and utilities, manufacturing, high tech and government agencies.
Shweta has over eight years of working experience with TCS and received her CUA last year.
How many are on your team?
At the core, our CoE maintains ten key members, extended by members deployed on projects. We take in people, we groom them, and we deploy them onto projects - 1000+ associates trained by us on usability. We have 100+ usability qualified professionals in TCS, of which 35+ are CUAs, so I call it the extended team. My team focuses on usability testing and assurance, but we have teams that are designated for design. They ensure the visual design, the interaction design. The entire team works towards the usability goals. This is along with separate teams within the CoE, looking at browser compatibility, accessibility, and localization.
How did you get into usability?
I entered TCS as an experienced instructional design professional. My first project was about training, development, and delivery to different audience types. Like usability, instructional design maintains a strong focus on user analysis – understanding user types, their needs, and intended use of application. The inputs remain the same. Because of that similarity I got into the usability and user-experience side. That is where it started.
After spending some time on my first project, I had the opportunity to work with a team on ecommerce development. With ecommerce there is a significant focus on user experience and gaining insights with online visitors and then improving the overall experience. That is where I was introduced to the terms usability and user experience, and the concepts they represent.
What do you think are the critical aspects of usability for developing ecommerce?
I think it’s about the entire journey of attracting consumers, retaining them, making them loyal. We get down to where they start, how they search for things, and whether they even land on the website. We focus on how a user arrives at the site, getting users to the site or application, and ensuring visual appeal. When they do that first bit of interaction, they should see the features easily, and at the same time the visual appeal should be there.
It is important to make it attractive and compelling enough for them to interact with the site, so that is what I am talking about when I say the features and the functionality. After that it is all about the search and navigation part of it, as well as the trust in the application. So to that extent navigation is getting users to the site, making it compelling with strong user visual appeal and easy navigation, so that they will be able to go ahead in the navigation and have appropriate interaction. This should take them from must have to could have, to should have so that they keep coming back.
Can you talk about the projects you are working on?
We have multiple projects running simultaneously. With mobile, best practices need to be customized. There are different standards and schools of thought about how you customize the standards, such as minimalistic design. How do you make sure that a certain topic still has the same meaning when it comes to mobile?
I'm not able to talk too much about the projects, but we have them in various domains – web, as well as niche domain, workflow applications. In each of these projects we combine a standards check with our assets, detailed expert review, and user testing, mostly moderated. We interview users and get their feedback. We are doing a couple of projects around the typical consumer applications. With TCS present in numerous domains, we have our hands on projects ranging from retail and ecommerce to utility, life sciences, banking, telecom, travel, and several others. For some recent projects, we are doing user testing and research to see how typical water and electricity consumers go through the billing process.
What change did the CUA make into your approach for work?
I had a good idea of the concepts from people who had already earned the CUA. While I was already able to use some of the concepts, once I took the HFI training courses myself, a lot of my questions were answered, specifically in regard to the visual memory, the motor, and the foundational concepts. Sometimes people would just agree/not agree to make changes. That is where you have to give them the logic as to how the contrast should be; you can’t use red because the contrast is straining to the eyes, and so on. All this science that was covered in the training makes things easier for me to formulate my logic and identify priorities. And it makes it easier for other people to understand.
What are some of your challenges and future goals?
A major challenge that still remains is the standardization of usability best practices, consistency of standards. With a plethora of standards and best practices left to interpretation of reviewers, there is no set process of stamping usability scoring and assessment.
Organizations are looking for that standard format. I believe in HFI’s content and curriculum, and the standards most of all. Standardization is required in the industry and people are going to HFI for it.
There has to be the realization that what people are getting out of HFI, or studying usability needs to be implemented across the board. We still have a lot of customers who don’t know about user experience and our day-to-day job is to help them understand what it is. The need for standardization is a challenge, but I am sure we will be addressing this soon. Following HFI’s guidelines, and taking them even further, my team and I have been able to come up with a preliminary scoring pattern and are looking to move toward automation. Things like formative testing, best practices for doing that, and standardization therein still need a lot of work.
These are some things that we tend to come up with in terms of our own experience, and it would be great to have these things stamped in by an organization like HFI, or a web attending group. I think there are still a lot of gaps that should be filled in, and I am looking forward to it. I hope that I can play a role in getting these kinds of things out. I really want things to happen for usability, and right now I feel that too many people think of usability testing as just about running a checklist. People just pick up a checklist from the Internet and go by that! I hope that people everywhere start realizing the importance of standards. And of course we all have our work to do in that area, but each of our CUAs needs to do it as well.
So to make this a global standard, you are starting with your company and hoping it can spread to other companies as well?
Yes, absolutely. I am lucky at our organization, where I learned customer centricity early on. Then with creativity and imagination, I was able to have more customer focus and emphasize those concepts. It gives us an opportunity to do a lot under usability, and I really hope that this runs through all the companies and organizations so we can talk on the same platform with other people to establish the importance. I love representing the user through usability, and user experience. Giving it more clarity and focus is something that I am really longing to have all across international borders.
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