NN/g News

A One-Man Band - Doing Everything in an Ever-Changing Environment

January 8, 2001

By Shuli Gilutz

Dr. Brenda Laurel

Brenda Laurel speaks in Austin.

AUSTIN, Texas, January 8, 2001. Many different issues came up at the Austin conference - from marketing issues (how can usability support branding?), through role and communicational issues (how do HCI people work with programmers and graphic designers?), to technical issues (should we spend more time on field observation?). The diversity of topics makes one wonder--what are the responsibilities and interests of the attendees? Could this audience be so diverse? Do they face the same challenges?

The answer is yes and no. The audience at the Austin conference was pretty diverse--business analyst, consultants, designers, information architects, managers, marketing, technical, students, writers and usability professionals--were all mixed together. But, when we spoke to some of the attendees, we found out that titles don't always reveal the true nature of the role, and many times the title is very specific, but they actually do... everything.

Photo of Brian O'Neill, Lycos

Brian O'Neill,

Brian O'Neill had traveled to Texas from Lycos's office in Boston and has been a web designer for 4 years. " A web designer is not necessarily a graphic designer " Bryan explains. Actually, his responsibilities include: information architecture, redesign process, page design and layout, and usability testing. Specifically about this conference's goal Bryan tells us that Lycos managers respect usability testing and believe their goal is to please their users and give them a good users' experience. "They rather have something usable and delay the schedule a bit than having it wrong". Brian tells us that defining the categories on the website was a big challenge for his team--"how do you build a website architecture where people can find what they want without a billion of links on the front page?" He recommends hearing how different people (marketing, technical, etc.) would categorize things, and paying attention to consistency in terms verbs vs. nouns as category titles.


Photo of Gayle Hess, FreeMarkets

Gayle Hess,

Gayle Hess, a senior information designer at Freemarkets started out when her director had a concept they needed a graphic designer in the process. She admits "When I started I wasn't sure what that meant either... but as I'm developing my role I find that there are a lot of places where they need my help.". Her responsibilities now include site architecture, information design, art direction for graphic designers, usability testing and report. "It's getting very difficult to be a one man band , so now I'm writing job descriptions and hoping to hire a UI development team to help do all of this". She has a diverse background - currently finishing her MA degree form Carnegie Melon in HCI, and a fine arts and animation background. Gayle says that she is constantly learning new things from books and websites. "The biggest challenge is to teach other people about usability, it's importance and techniques. In order to do this I created a presentation that explains the WHY--what are the usability heuristics, where do they come from, here's something on our websites that violates that, and here is how it can be made better." Gayle said that this formal presentation helped management understand more about the importance of these studies, and recommends it to everybody.

Photo of J Cobb, Motorola

J Cobb,

J Cobb is a webmaster based in Motorola's office in Phoenix, Arizona. He runs all the intranet projects for supply management of the semi-conductor products. "I do everything, I'm the only guy, which has its pluses and minuses". What J means by everything is: development, graphics, information architecture, coding and programming for web applications and usability. How does he know all of this? He learned HTML back in '94 doing his roommate's homework and studied graphics in college. "Then I just picked a lot of stuff up... like Java, Cold Fusion, Oracle environments". J started to hear about usability on webmonkey.com, and got interested in Jakob Nielsen's book--"this became really important to me since my job is to get all this information to the managers who need it, and the better I can do that, the better I can do my job, and theoretically the better the whole division will run. My main challenge is being a one man operation and doing the work of an entire team". Another big challenge J faces is integrating existing intranet web sites from different departments - creating standards and style guides. "It's hard to support everybody when people in different places use different browsers and different languages!" He is now integrating the different international sites together, and in the process of thinking of the right way to do that. "I came to this conference to find some guidelines on how to do that."

Photo of Matthew Ott, Terayon

Matthew Ott,

Matthew Ott is a web project manager for Terayon, a broadband networking company. Matthew does everything from information architecture, e-commerce initiations, intranet and Internet, graphics and infrastructure. "When I was looking at the triangle Jeff Veen presented (of different roles in the design process, S.G.) I was wondering where do I fit? A month ago I was doing mainly technical stuff but now I would be more management...I have a limited team, but I guess that's always the case." Matthew was originally intending to be an English teacher. Instead he wound up in the Internet world and "picked things up as I go along. It's such a young field, and in a way it's a forgiving medium, so you have the opportunity for a little trial and error. If you put up something and it doesn't work it can be easily fixed. It's not like you're going to print 300,00 of magazines the next day and that's it."

Will this continue to be the case? People with the same job titles that do different things, and people with different job titles that do so many similar things? It will probably take some time till this new field's organization is more stable and consistent, and till then we will continue doing...almost everything.