Friday 30 September 2011

Lessons learned

Integrating usability into your work patterns means being able to demonstrate that you are in touch with the full range of users in a non-jargonistic way that excludes no-one. If you want to bootstrap usability, you will find that it has to influence and inform every single step of the development process and the relationship the project has with the wider organisational/business context in which it exists.

The biggest cultural shift is to make the usability analysis usable, i.e. to make the projects outputs extensible, transparent and traceable. The project will now be able to demonstrate an existing framework of usability into which any new development can be placed, discussed and tracked. Informal relationships with key users can now become formalised, events such as workshops can be opened up appealing to different audiences. Perhaps these workshops could also be taken out 'on the road' to visit institutions which development teams would not ordinarily get the chance to go to.

One potential dividend would be to build up experiences on the development of generic pieces of functionality, e.g. a registration form, a search form. New projects could then build these items of the back of hundreds (thousands?) of hours of research and development into these functions within the HE sector - an enviable knowledge base of good practice into which their own process could be recorded.

Usability practice has been integrated into our approach with no consultancy input - whilst there may be a need to create resources to define what constitutes the usability toolkit, this is liable to change over even a short period of time. Therefore, for usability to self-propagate, development teams across the HE sector need ways of communicating and discussing these approaches through worked examples. From a personal standpoint, there's no shortage of advice on the matter - what would be more useful if how other HE teams, facing the same institutional pressures, have actually run projects.

The funding for this project has generated a large amount of raw data on usage patterns which could inform other projects (e.g.  library catalogues) at their outset. The opportunity is there to for this to be a two-way process - to give results back to the community upon project closure and so build up a corpus of material which could potentially be used in a longitudinal study of systems support in HE.

The usability process seeks to make clear specific obstacles and impediments which your users face; it would be ironic if the approach taken to more closely integrate usability practice into HE systems development relied on generalised case studies and theory.

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