Learning About Usability on a
Shoestring and a Prayer
by John S. Rhodes
People have asked me how they can become
familiar with usability without taking a million courses and without paying too much
money. My answer is always the same. The best way to learn about usability is to spend
time with users, and try to thinking like a user would think.
Obviously there are other important ways of learning about usability, but thinking about
users is the first step. While some of my suggestions are tried and true, others might be
a bit unclear. Choose what is best for you and start your journey, or continue on if
youve already begun.
(By the way, a colleague pointed out that my list of suggestions would be a great way for
someone to learn about usability even if they were planning to pursue a degree. Further,
such techniques could be used to learn about almost any topic.)
Here is my laundry list of suggestions:
1. Build your own Web site as a showcase and test bed. Dont focus on
technical wizardry, focus on content development, planning, and good design. Learn the
appropriate tools and learn HTML. Test your site with friends and family, and other users.
2. Join online discussion groups and newsgroups. For example, see Online-Writing and
comp.human-factors. Gently ask these groups to evaluate your site; thank them for their
feedback. See also my list of recommended Web sites.
3. Spend time surfing; analyze and critique Web sites. Trash the sites and keep a log.
Submit these recommendations to the Web master. Such feedback can result in an internship,
or even a job. If the changes are made that you suggest, all the better.
4. Network with folks that are already in the field. Ask for their advice and
5. Read online journals and magazines, such as Moving
WebWord the Alertbox.
6. Search for jobs in usability, web and interface design, and human factors. Read the
descriptions that companies provide. Take note of the skills, educational requirements,
and experience levels that they are looking for. You will probably see quite a spread of
descriptions and qualifications. Be sure to conduct both online and off-line searches.
7. Get an internship or work as an experts apprentice.
8. Read books, articles, and magazines
related to usability and human factors.
9. Attend conferences that are related to usability and human factors,
such as the annual meetings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), ACM SIGCHI,
and the Usability Professionals Association (UPA).
10. Usability and human factors are highly related. Learn about human factors by reading WebWord.com's
Short of getting a degree in human factors or taking classes in Web site design, this is
about it. However, if you do have other suggestions, please email me. If I feel the suggestion is appropriate,
Ill append them to this column.
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