I had the opportunity to provide some usability counsel to a client of the firm today. The client is implementing a multi-million dollar platform to provide commercial line insurance quoting functionality to their independent agents. I was contacted by the project team because the client had expressed an interest in utilizing user-centered design for this effort.
As part of their process, they are planning on engaging a usability firm to provide heuristic reviews which they plan on using to provide direction to a 3rd party developer. One issue I noted was that they had no resources in place to provide design interpretation of the heuristic review results before handing them over to developers. As a result, they are relying on developers (who are customizing an off-the-shelf product) to realize any recommendations from the usability firm.
Then, they are planning on following the initial phase of development with several iterations of user testing and re-development. Since they are not planning on any up-front user analysis or requirements gathering, the first user input they receive will be in the form of user testing results – or usability issues. The issue I see there is that people resolve issues differently than they would design solutions to satisfy requirements.
In both cases, you have a situation where an existing system is being adjusted in order to alleviate something wrong, rather than create something right.
In the course of our discussion, it came out that the impetus for engaging the usability firm was so that, once the product was implemented, they could say they engaged a usability firm. They didn’t want to be caught with usability issues and then have to admit no usability work had been done. Unfortunately, I think the way they are going about it may create more issues than it solves. Hopefully, I can convince them that “user-centered design” without a design component is just “user-centered,” and that they really haven’t put the user at the center of the effort, its just… You get the idea.