Product manufacturers, software publishers and other companies hire usability specialists to help ensure that their products and services meet user needs. These professionals gather and analyze user preferences and pass on their findings to product designers and engineers. Usability specialists can come from various academic backgrounds, such as psychology, cognitive science, marketing and computer science.
Using the Skills
To thrive on the job, usability specialists must possess superior creative skills and the enthusiasm to help manufacturers develop products that are a pleasure to use. They should be able to provide creative suggestions that can help improve existing products. Usability specialists also require strong research, communication and analytical skills to effectively gather and analyze customer intelligence. When required to describe this information to product designers and engineers, usability specialists rely on good presentation skills.
Gathering Customer Intelligence
Usability specialists obtain information from prospective customers or users to establish their product needs and preferences. When a telephone maker wants to manufacture a new mobile phone, for example, the usability specialist may conduct interviews or online surveys to gather information from the firm’s existing customers. Because preferences vary among customers, the specialist evaluates all of the responses to come up with a list that captures market preferences and gives it to the production team.
During product development, usability specialists test products to make sure they work according to customer preferences. In software development, the specialist typically conducts customer experience testing at the beta phases -- the second phase in a software release cycle. If she isn’t satisfied with the software’s user interface design, she recommends suitable changes to the developers. Usability specialists must also stay abreast of industry trends by attending trade fairs and product exhibitions.
The education requirements for usability specialists vary by area of specialism. For instance, aspiring specialists who want to work in software development should obtain at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, while those looking to work in motor vehicle manufacturing should obtain a degree in ergonomics. Usability specialists can obtain the Human Factors International’s usability analyst certification and complete a master’s degree in usability to improve their job competence and qualify for administrative jobs, such as director of usability.