An interview with William Gribbons

About William Gribbons

Professor Bill Gribbons is Director of the Human Factors and Information Design programs at Bentley University (Waltham, MA), where he teaches courses in human factors and information design on the undergraduate and graduate levels. Professor Gribbons was also founder of the Design and Usability Center. In 2002, he was awarded the position of Distinguished Professor of Human Factors in recognition of his contributions to the college and the profession. He received his PhD from the University of Maryland. He is an associate fellow of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and a member of the Technical Communication Editorial Board. He is a popular speaker at local and national conferences addressing issues of information design, human factors, and the user interface. His long-term research interests center on the building of a unified theory defining the user experience.


Main points

  • In the 1990s usability of products was dealt with only after the fact with documentation, training, and technical support.
  • Focus on what people value.
  • In the past, usability testing was all we got buy-in for, so we used it as a tool to discover product issues that should have been found earlier in the process.
  • Many stakeholders need to see the problems before they agree to fix them.
  • The value of research is predicting a problem before it occurs and avoiding it in the first place.
  • Whenever there’s a change and shift from one thing (technology) differentiating to another (user experience), someone (stakeholders) is going to be threatened.
  • Design should get out of the development world. UX should change its focus to the business by working with Marketing departments as equals.
  • The perfect position for a UX person is a product manager.
  • I learned to move slowly and quietly, build on small successes and reputation. It’s far more effective and productive than fighting your way in.
  • What helped us succeed in a business school such as Bentley University, was that we initiated the Design and Usability Center that gave students the opportunity to work with real projects in the marketplace.
  • To get buy-in in industry, as well as in academia, you have to find your advocates.
  • In the past, CS people were cautious about us. Now we see that Marketing is feeling threatened by us.
  • Understand what’s important to your colleagues. Find out what they value, what are their challenges. Try to partner with them very openly.
  • Don’t come up against giant egos.