An interview with Jared Spool

About Jared Spool

Jared M. Spool is the founder of User Interface Engineering, the largest usability research organization of its kind in the world. If you’ve ever seen Jared speak about usability, you know that he’s probably the most effective and knowledgeable communicator on the subject today. He’s been working in the field of usability and design since 1978, before the term "usability" was ever associated with computers.

Jared spends his time working with the research teams at the company, helps clients understand how to solve their design problems, explains to reporters and industry analysts what the current state of design is all about, and is a top-rated speaker at more than 20 conferences every year. He is also the conference chair and keynote speaker at the annual UIE Conference and Web App Masters Tour, is on the faculty of the Tufts University Gordon Institute, and manages to squeeze in a fair amount of writing time. He is author of the books, Web Site Usability: A Designer’s Guide and Web Anatomy: Interaction Design Frameworks that Work (with Robert Hoekman).


Main points

  • If stakeholders are involved in research, you get their attention.
  • Tell your stakeholders that if they don’t show up and observe sessions, they can’t have a say on the outcome.
  • Use different techniques to force stakeholders to participate.
  • One of our field’s mistakes is that we acted as a service bureau. We did everything ourselves.
  • Stakeholders should be involved in selecting participants, getting information from the recruitment process, the rehearsal, actual visits/testing, discussions about what you’re seeing, and for the analysis process.
  • Ask stakeholders to be exposed to real people using real designs for at least 2 hours once every 6 weeks.
  • To identify research opportunities, follow the money. Whenever you have a user experience problem, it results in frustration on somebody’s part. This frustrations show themselves on the bottom line. There’s probably already someone assigned to fixing that. Offer your help to those people.
  • If stakeholders come to you asking for studies, you are already behind the game.
  • Because someone else has had an entire conversation about the problem and you weren’t there. That’s a problem.
  • If you are not informing the decision making process, you are suffering.
  • The KJ technique helps get team consensus about results of user research or ideas for designs, etc.
  • There are dozens of techniques that can help engage stakeholders with research.
  • Teams don’t need your deliverables. They develop their own. Ask your stakeholders what do they need from you.
  • Deliverables do not make the project.
  • Stakeholders should moderate usability studies. Poor moderating is a training problem that can easily be solved.
  • There’s no point in working with unengaged stakeholders. Go find better ones.