by Alice Preston and David Dick
Reprinted from Usability Interface, Vol 7, No. 4, April 2001
The theme of this year’s annual conference is “Global Communication Odyssey.” Wireless phones, the Internet, and e-commerce rely on telecommunication to deliver service to the customer. Our own Alice Preston and David Dick describe the role of usability in telecommunication.
Alice Preston—You bet that there is a role for usability in Telecommunication! Telecommunication products either are hardware, software, or a combination: all of which need usability, as well as documentation, installation guides, and help systems.
My area of Telcordia Technologies produces software systems that keep the telephone systems running. Although the vast majority of transactions in our telecommunication software products are mechanized, by sheer volume the small percent of manually handled transactions and errors add up to a lot of user interaction. Hence the importance of well-designed software tools to support that user interaction. So we have groups performing all aspects of usability engineering, as well as groups for all those other communications and training tasks.
As Usability Engineers, my colleagues and I conduct observations. We produce needs analyses, perform usability tests, design the user interfaces, and write requirements. We also create prototypes on paper or in Visual Basic or Java, spend hours in design meetings with members of all the involved disciplines, and follow an ISO-certified process. We work with vendor systems that also show evidence of usability involvement, from the design of the switching equipment through the user interface of the Element Management Systems with which our products interface.
David Dick—Traditionally, I have been responsible for documentation about network equipment and network topologies. When staff became aware that I was also willing to help them to design user-friendly applications for use by support centers, they welcomed me into their project teams.
Usability plays an important role in the design of a network because it entails understanding the context of use and organizational requirements, the creation of design solutions (prototypes), and the evaluation of designs against requirements. For example, the addressing scheme (used by customers to connect to the network) must be designed to easily accommodate an infinite number of connections, and telecommunication equipment must be easy to set-up and easy to maintain.
Many of the skills necessary for successful user-centered design of software and hardware are also the skills necessary for successful network design such as:
- Interviewing users
- Interpreting data from user feedback sessions to identify customer requirements
- Creating prototypes and conducting prototype feedback sessions
- Capturing the design and the rationale for design decisions
- Communicating the design to stakeholders
- Making design trade-offs based on schedules, resources, cost, and the priorities of other designers
The growing demand for wireless phones, the Internet, and e-commerce place greater emphasis on usability in Telecommunication.