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Usability Engineer

What They Do

Insider Info

Usability engineers are experts in the relationship between people and technology. They may also be called user experience specialists, usability practitioners, interface designers, information architects, usability managers, experience officers or other similar titles.

Usability engineers ensure that websites and computer software are user-friendly. Their aim is to make sure the average user can easily understand and use technological products. Most jobs in this field have to do with computers and the Internet.

On the Internet, usability engineers make sure people can find the information they are looking for quickly. They also aim to use language that people can understand -- even if they are not familiar with the product or industry.

Manufacturers also employ usability engineers to make sure their products are physically comfortable to use. This includes saving people from repetitive stress injuries. Usability engineers might also work with large, sophisticated equipment, such as medical devices or other computerized machinery.

Susan Reale is a qualitative and usability research consultant for her company REALeResearch. She has been involved in usability research since its infancy in the 1980s. She says she has watched the job grow over the years, and job listings keep getting longer and longer.

"Some of the larger companies have whole departments dedicated to usability," she says.

As online sales become a larger and larger income source, companies are investing more in online marketing. But usability isn't just for websites. Reale says she has done user experience studies for everything from laptop cases to business conferences to infectious disease body bags.

"User experience is a big buzzword," she says. She explains that companies are very concerned about making their products easy to use.

A usability engineer's duties vary depending on the exact type of job they have. For example, some might do laboratory tests. Others might work with customers and take note of their patterns when they use software. Some have a less hands-on role and work developing methods for testing. Others work with executives helping them plan digital strategies for their businesses. Many find themselves doing a little bit of everything.

The majority of usability engineers find full-time work. They usually work for technology-based companies, such as software corporations. Others work for advertising or design firms, nonprofit organizations, government or educational institutions.

Some usability engineers are consultants. This means they move from project to project and company to company, but have full-time work through a consulting firm. Others are entrepreneurs with their own consulting firms.

Communication is very important to usability engineers. They must have a good understanding of what the business wants the final product to do. While doing research, they must understand the user experience -- how people find the experience of using a website or product. That includes making usability tests and evaluating the outcomes. Once the information has been gathered, they must summarize the results. This includes bringing bright suggestions for improvement to the company.

Usability engineers who do usability on websites are typically required to be able to see. But visually impaired usability engineers may have an advantage when testing products that would be used by the visually impaired community, such as website screen readers.

"As long as they can communicate with their clients and interact with the product being tested, they can do it," says Reale. "In terms of mobility, almost anyone can do this job."

At a Glance

  • Make sure the average person can use a piece of technology
  • This is a new career that is changing all the time
  • There are many educational paths to usability design