CUA of the Month – July, 2016

Wes Lewis
“Being positioned as I currently am to make life easier for a wide variety of people while doing what I love brings me great satisfaction. It validates my work and allows me to impact lives in ways I never could have imagined.”
Wes Lewis

User Experience Lead
Booz Allen Hamilton

UX for Disaster Relief

by Jim Garrett

Sometimes our Certified Usability Analysts have the privilege of working on projects that have a huge impact on people’s lives. This is the case with our CUA of the Month, Wes Lewis, of Booz Allen Hamilton.

He is currently the Lead UX Designer for an application which will enable disaster survivors to request emergency assistance across federal, state, local, tribal, volunteer and private sector organizations. In this role, his goal is to ensure that the overall experience for this website is exceptional, consistent, and valuable. In alignment with the project’s mission, he strives to design the new website as an agency-neutral, survivor-centric portal through which disaster survivors can effortlessly request the help they need to rebuild their lives.

Can you tell me about your role and current activities?

Working closely with our client and collaborating with the members of our cross-functional team, allows me to design an interface which can then be further enhanced through insights developed following the completion of usability testing activities and ethnographic interviews.

While I primarily focus on the appearance and flow of the web application, two UX researchers lead, plan, and execute our project’s user research activities. Ed Yahn and Joaille Araujo (both immensely talented CUAs) retrieve tons of valuable user data for us as a team to synthesize; this ultimately helps to inform future design decisions. Collectively, our primary goals are to ensure that disaster survivors can easily determine what type(s) of assistance they need, quickly and painlessly apply for this assistance, and inquire about the status of their applications throughout the process.

Outside of this project, I’m also the UX Lead for two digital modernization initiatives supporting a federal agency that regulates workplace safety and health. I also co-lead a mentoring circle within my market which aims to convey firm knowledge to and to impart career advice upon junior staff and support the development of our firm-wide UX Community of Practice as co-lead of mentoring activities.

There have been a lot of natural disasters the last couple of years so it would seem critical for this website to be user friendly.

Absolutely. I generally refer to this as a website that no one should ever want to find themselves needing to use. If a user is on the site for any reason other than just browsing, they’re either expecting something terrible to happen or that “terrible something” has already occurred. We recognize the need to create a digital product which will enable ease of use given the potential circumstances of its target user base: disaster survivors.

What have you found out about your users?

We realize that disasters can befall anyone at any time. We recognize that, as a result of this, the overall circumstances of our users can vary greatly. There may be cases where power, food, water, and other resources may be in short supply or simply non-existent. Regardless of the severity of our disaster survivors’ needs per case, one thing unifies them within the context of this website: If they’re there, chances are, they need help. As we are still fairly early in our research efforts, we strive to learn more about our users and their respective journeys to make absolutely sure that, upon the launch of our solution, their pain points will have been addressed to make way for the best possible experience.

Have you found a connection between how efficient the website is that you are creating, and progress in terms of government response to the individuals?

Absolutely! While we develop our solution, I believe we must remain cognizant of processes currently in place which emergency response personnel utilize to process survivor input. Of course, it would be great to streamline these processes where we can to reduce complexities and potentially speed up communications and decision-making. This is an area where our project team’s approach to user research and usability testing stands to show its extraordinary value.

It is a really awesome and fulfilling project to be a part of, and I am very excited to see how our incorporation of user research, design best practices, and universal design principles will enhance this solution for survivors. This is an opportunity to make life easier for millions across the country.

What kind of significant changes have you been able to make on the website?

A significant change we are making is the redirection of focus to the needs of disaster survivors from the partner agencies that support the program in providing assistance to those who have applied. A disaster survivor applying for assistance has typically encountered some sort of devastating loss. So, with our introduction of a concise application design and flow along with a degree of personalization, we are able to enhance our survivors’ ability to think on their feet and to make decisions quickly. I think that those are some of the important changes that I have seen and have been a part of over the last year.

Are most of these weather related disasters?

Per our client’s data, a sizeable portion of declared disasters are triggered by dangerous weather conditions. However, there are a number of other disaster types which qualify for declaration by the President of the United States. Those caused by earthquakes, fires, contaminated water, virus threats, acts of terror, and the like also can be declared by our Commander-in-Chief.

So, how did this all lead to you taking the CUA exam for certification?

There are a good number of Certified Usability Analysts here at Booz Allen and the certificate, as well as Human Factors International, is very well respected as an authority on usability and user experience design. Within our community of practice, we weigh the credential quite heavily; as such, I was compelled to pursue it.

How did you prepare for the test?

I didn’t have the time to take the two-week class, so I reviewed independently for the exam. I had heard great things about it from those within the firm who had previously taken it. I had also been warned not to take it lightly. I took the exam right before work one day and failed the first time by a lousy 3%, but I soon realized exactly where I had messed up and decided to re-test after work the same day. My second attempt was more successful and I passed the exam.

My experiences with skilled UX designers and analysts here at Booz Allen gave me enough confidence and background to feel adequately prepared for the exam. However, I do feel as though I would have benefited from the two-week training.

Did working around your fellow CUAs help taking the test as well?

I would say that working around and with fellow CUAs helped me the most, given the fact that I did not attend the formal training. This could be a testament to how effective the HFI /CUA program is because they are incorporating a lot of what they learned in their training into their day-to-day work. Thankfully, I was able to leech on and absorb some valuable knowledge for use in my own work and on the CUA exam.

I know it has just been a few months, but has it helped in your work or has applying the new knowledge shifted your perspective since getting the certification?

Absolutely. I am going into a new project where usability testing and user research are going to be huge. I look forward to utilizing the skills I picked up from the CUA to support those activities occurring on our disaster assistance website project and to lead the design and research activities in our latest modernization initiative.

I have enjoyed hearing about your work and how it influences people and what you are doing. Where do you find the satisfaction, the joy, the passion in your work?

My UX passion lies in the concept of universal design – designing for all. As a firm believer in the power of technology and human intellect, I’ve never been able to dismiss the idea of a harmonious unification of usability and accessibility in even the most complex digital products.

Service has always been a highlight of my existence; I enjoy helping people in any way I possibly can. As I have been enthralled by technology for seemingly eternity, being positioned as I currently am to make life easier for a wide variety of people while doing what I love brings me great satisfaction. It validates my work and allows me to impact lives in ways I never could have imagined.

I would definitely say that this is the type of work for me. I want to make a positive impact on the world, and I am able to do so through technology, universal design, and UX.

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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