Are usability gurus a good investment?
August 20, 2001
Elegant Hack spotted this article by Charles L. Mauro which questions "Is a high priced usability "Guru" a good investment?"

What the author is really criticizing is the idea you can parachute someone in for a couple days and they'll magically solve your usability problems. Mauro catalogs some of the problems with this approach. Probably the biggest problem, ironically enough, is making this consulting user-friendly.

"Often the usability Guru approach takes the form of a well-orchestrated exorcism. Beating the bad usability spirits out of the web site by a constant and highly negative critique of the current site and of course by association the development team."

Not surprisingly, the targets of the exorcism don't take kindly to it.

"Want to kill UCD [user-centered desgin] for the current generation of web development teams? Make them think that everything they did was stupid and wasteful."

Unfortunately, I'm seen this attitude not only among gurus but a number of usability specialists, who also seem to share some of the other weaknesses that Mauro points out—including: "one size fits all" approaches, inadequate understanding of who your users are, and an inability to see how usability fits into the bigger picture. As Mauro says:

Sure, one can create a site that is straight HTML, without any concern for visual branding, customer acquisition, retention, or migration, and call it a good usability solution.

While "spot consulting" if done well, can help bring organizational focus to the important of usability, jumpstart usability efforts, and provide coaching, it's really the day-to-day focus on user-focused design, incorporated throughout the development team, that ultimately is going to produce better results.

The article also kicked of an interesting discussion at Elegant Hack about what does it taketo be a skilled UX practitioner. ::

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