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April 2006 Contents

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World Usability Day at SafeCo Insurance Company

By Jason Valalik
Senior Specialist, Usability and User Centered Design Research

Jason Valalik is a certified usability engineer and has been conducting user centered design and usability research for over 8 years. He has worked for such companies as Nike, Intel, and Ziba Design in the creation of intuitive user experiences through behavioral research and observation. His focus now is on interactive experiences, but he has been involved in product and environmental experience research as well. He is currently working at Safeco Insurance to drive user friendly web experiences through consumer insights.

At Safeco Insurance Company the User Centered Design Team created a variety of activities and events to raise corporate awareness around usability and user centered design. The culture here is not fully aware of the benefits these practices bring and World Usability day last November afforded our team the opportunity to create some buzz.

The team brainstormed many ideas and settled on four that we felt would give us the most bang for our buck. These were an article that appeared on the intranet, development of a usability breadcrumb activity, and a usability booth and brown bag session.

Safeco Today Article
This article was the kick-off to World Usability day. Everyone in the company received an email when a new article appears on our intranet. The article focused on informing everyone about World Usability day, how usability helps Safeco gain an edge in the market, and what the readers can do to get involved.

The second activity was the creation of usability “breadcrumbs” to highlight known issues in our daily environment. This activity entailed finding known usability problems and tagging the issue with a Post-it™.

Breadcrumb Examples

1. On our soda vending machines: Where does your drink come out?

On our soda vending machines: Where does your drink come out?

2. On the elevators: Which button do you hit to hold the door open? HURRY!

On the elevators: Which button do you hit to hold the door open? HURRY!

Usability Booth
The second event was the creation of a booth with three major themes. This booth was set up in our cafeteria because of the high traffic it receives throughout the day. We had a total of about 400 people stop by and ask questions or sign up for a tour of our usability lab.

Booth Setup

Booth Setup

Major Themes at the Booth

1. What does poor usability cost American businesses?
The objective of this board was to give employees some numbers to digest in regards to usability and its impact on business.

What does poor usability cost American businesses?

2. Five reasons not to do usability testing.
The focus of this board was to answer common objections we hear from our internal partners and help them understand that we can always find opportunities for user centered design activities. Listed are the top five objections the team hears for not including usability in projects and brief answers explaining why they are not convincing.

Five reasons not to do usability testing

3. Please! Don’t make me think.
Usability and user centered design teams are often viewed as ”window dressing”, meaning that all we do is make things prettier by changing some colors here and there, reordering some things on the page and nit-picking the words on pages. This board displayed a few simple examples of how changing the color, wording, and order of things can have a huge impact on the user.

Please! Don’t make me think

Some other themes we focused on within the booth were explaining how usability aligns with our corporate goals and explicitly discussing the benefits. We then developed a board of Safeco applications to show how completely different some look from others and explain the benefits of creating a consistent experience.

The booth also included a video of actual user testing to demonstrate the technique and how participants respond.

After employees explored the booth area they could sign up to take a lab tour to see how everything works.

Usability: A Business Case
We also provided a lunch-time presentation expanding on Susan Weinscehnk’s white paper of the same title. The presentation pulled out the major themes and provided Safeco-specific examples to make the presentation relevant to the audience. This was about a 30 minute presentation with a question and answer session at the end.

Mission Accomplished!!
The team did a great job in raising awareness around usability and user centered design. The item that created the most buzz was the Post-it™ notes placed throughout the building. You could see people look at them and smile or comment to someone in the elevator. Some people actually wrote on the notes and continued asking about them afterwards.

This was a good day for Safeco, our team and our mission; we raised awareness, worked hard, and had fun. We have a great opportunity here at Safeco to integrate usability and user centered design into web applications, web sites, the culture, and everything we do. We are on the road to success and you will be hearing about us in the future.

I am looking forward to next year’s World Usability Day.

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