Usability specialists make sure that products, especially technical ones, are easy and pleasurable to use. How? First, they observe and interview potential users to identify their needs and preferences. After a prototype is developed, they watch and interview potential users again and suggest revisions. Not surprisingly, the job outlook for usability specialists is strong. The number of new, complex products is proliferating, and many of them demand a usability specialist.
A potential downside of this career is that shortsighted companies believe they can make products without a specifically trained usability expert, so you may have to spend considerable time justifying your service's value. Another drawback is that you may need to make efforts to avoid being typecast as someone who can help design only one kind of product.
Those concerns are usually dwarfed by the good feeling of continually creating products that are a pleasure to use.
National: $98,800. More pay data by metropolitan area
(Data provided by PayScale.com)
People can enter this field with a wide range of backgrounds. They may have degrees in fields such as computer science, cognitive psychology, anthropology, human factors, library science, or marketing. They may have practical experience in customer service, quality assurance, marketing, and product development.
A master's degree in usability [Listing of usability degree programs] can enhance your ability to get hired, but more important may be the ability to think rigorously and relentless curiosity about how to make products more user-friendly.
Key to getting hired is practical experience. Often, you can get your first projects by networking at major industry conferences and tutorials, for example:
- SIGCHI 2008 conference: April 5-10, 2008, in Florence, Italy
- Usability Professionals' Association 2008 conference: June 16-20, 2008, in Baltimore
- HFI's four-course track to become a Certified Usability Analyst: offered throughout the year in major U.S. cities, Europe, and India
- Usability Professional Association
- Computer Human Interaction: a special-interest group of the Association for Computing Machinery
- The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
- Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen
- Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition by Steve Krug