Projects: Friends of Usability

Friend of Usability at NIC - Debra Luling


Debra Luling recently received a Friends of Usability award from UPA member Kelly Berg.

As a General Manager at NIC, which partners with state and local governments to put government services on the Web, Debra, a usability advocate, determined that Usability was crucial to the development process. She determined that Usability should have its own department and created Usability and Interface as one of three groups within the company, including 1) Marketing, 2) Technology, and 3) Usability and Interface. Kelly is the Director of Usability and Interface at NIC.

Kelly says, “Debra integrated usability as the first step in our project methodology, thus giving it a level of importance that it may not receive in many organizations. All new Web applications begin with a visual prototype created by the Usability and Interface Division, which works with the customer to determine what the application should do. Technical specifications are then derived by making the prototype functional. By integrating usability at the beginning of the project, it eliminates the need to have to beg for its inclusion, or suffer its absence, later in the process.”

Debra adds, “Once we made that decision, we took off!”

Debra would not consider herself a usability professional because she is a business person. She says, however, that “I understand and appreciate the value a usability person provides. I am absolutely a usability person advocate – their job is to move obstacles!”.

Debra recognizes the role usability has in providing a good product. To her, it is not a question of having time and resources for usability. She is very much an advocate for the user, so, to her, good usability just makes sense.

The site where Kelly and Debra worked together, http://www.tennessee.gov, went from #28 to #4 and then won the “Most Improved” award for the first year in which they tackled the site. In 2002, Tennessee's official state Web site, www.TennesseeAnytime.org, ranked first in the nation in Brown University’s third annual survey of state e-government performance.

Debra reports that she is “thrilled’ to receive the award and is currently displaying it prominently in her office.

Kelly says that she would give Friends of Usability awards in the future if --. “I would definitely give another award if I encountered someone like Debra who, in my opinion, had as much respect for usability and users as she does.’

‘I think that the award provides visibility for the importance of usability as a business process and promotes usability in general as an industry.”

Profile written by Everyl Yankee, June 2003

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