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Institutionalize User Experience – Lessons learned in the Field

Institutionalize User Experience – Lessons learned in the Field

By guest contributor; Marco Pretorius (PhD, CUA) – UX Manager at the Western Cape Government

The importance of User Experience (UX) is being realized in South Africa, however the majority of South African organizations/software companies/government institutions do not apply UX methods in their software development life cycles. Despite the highlighted importance of UX and the use of existing UX guidelines and standards, UX is rarely adopted in South Africa.

Presently there is a lack of understanding and buy-in of UX, specifically in South African Provincial Governments, because UX guidelines cannot be implemented... If there is no executive support, an inadequately trained staff; no routine UX practice; insufficient budget; or inefficient use of usability methodologies and user-centred design processes.


The challenge at present in the UX design field, as indicated & written about by HFI's CEO, Dr Eric Schaffer, in his book of the same title, is the institutionalization of UX. The author (Marco Pretorius) conducted research in this field of study and developed a methodology to institutionalize UX, focusing on South African Governments. The methodology was implemented at the Western Cape Government in South Africa.

Here are some of the lessons learned during the implementation of the methodology--


Starting the UX initiative

Organization and staff buy-in are required to truly institutionalize UX into an organization and to ensure that it is not an afterthought.


Measure the UX maturity level.

UX maturity models allow the assessment of the degree of capability reached by an organization and its ability to perform human-centred design activities. Organizations typically progress through a sequence of stages as their UX processes evolve and mature. For example, HFI’s Framework Maturity Model starts with an organization “being clueless” (Level 0), where an organization is unaware of usability as a formal discipline. The model progresses to the final level where usability is a routine practice and has been institutionalized. Measure the UX maturity of an organization on an on-going basis and do not lose sight of “where you want to be”.


Measure the usability of the current site.

Conduct an initial usability test to measure the usability of the current site. Usability is an indicator of the UX that a website will deliver. One of our first activities was establishing focus groups, where we invited stakeholders and citizens to chat about the website. Usability studies are a more effective method to measure the UX of your website, but we found focus groups to be a very good and cheap initial activity to get feedback on the website. The lessons learned were very valuable and improvements were made immediately. For example, the icons that were used, users did not understand and the URL was confusing. When you start the UX initiative, a method such as focus groups can go a long way in obtaining initial feedback about your site.


Presentations, presentations, presentations.

Here are some things to keep in mind when talking about UX:

  • Tell people what UX is. From the content writers and uploaders, to the developers, to the project managers to senior management.
  • Show results of usability studies, and before and after screenshots – show improvements as a result of UX.
  • Show UX maturity level results and where you need to be as an organization.
  • Show both good and best practices for people to compare against their own company or client websites.


Establishing the infrastructure

Fortunately, UX Guidelines are freely available throughout the Web (for example: HFI, Nielsen, UIE and usability.gov). If UX is new in an organization, all the guidelines may be overwhelming. It is a good idea to start a focused internal document using the most important guidelines available and make them applicable to your own environment.


As UX in the organization matures, this document can grow and develop into a UX toolkit website. A UX toolkit contains user interface standards (for example, what the buttons/links/branding on your site must look like), UX guidelines and templates for wireframes, designs and even coding. A UX toolkit will avoid re-inventing the wheel for other projects.


Select the relevant UX methods for your organization. Our environment mainly focuses on focus groups/interviews, surveys, wireframes, design, templates, usability laboratory testing and heuristic evaluations.


Build and develop the team

In order to formalize an infrastructure, a dedicated UX team is required (see the article by Reynhardt Uys – 5 tips for building a UX dream team.)

In order to cater for a wide range of UX methods, a team is needed that is strong in user research (surveys, focus groups, interviews, Google analytics); the design of the site (wireframes, design and prototyping); and usability testing (heuristic evaluations, walk-throughs, lab testing). If content is not a separate function, strong content writers are required.

Develop the team by encouraging postgraduate programs focusing on UX and the valuable HFI CUA and CXA tracks.

A UX team needs the support of dedicated content writers, content editors, developers, business analyst, project managers and other resources. It is important to formalize how these teams work together.


The Systems Development LifeCycle (SDLC)

The integration of UX into SDLC processes is probably the biggest challenge most organizations will face in the long run. UX will always run the risk of not being taken seriously, or being an afterthought, if it is not formalized in an organization SDLC. Once you have buy-in for UX and have showcased a few projects to demonstrate its definite advantages, then UX activities in the form of user-centred design need to be incorporated into the SDLC.


We took the approach of defining an SDLC in a small team environment. After a few iterations, the value was demonstrated and then lessons adopted from this were incorporated into the overall organizational SDLC.

Keep the momentum!

Continue with presentations about UX and your achievements. Present the success stories, UX guidelines, UX toolkit, results from usability studies, and improvements made to the website. Let people in the organization know about UX.

We successfully established the 1st usability lab for a South African Government in the Western Cape. This has become a beacon for UX in our environment, with visits from the Western Cape Government Premier and top management. We have Susan Dray’s famous quote outside of our lab: “If the user can’t use it, it doesn’t work” – which really is our UX team’s motto.

Make sure that UX is covered in detail in specification documents required for procuring service providers - otherwise you will get service providers to do work who do not understand UX. Work with the larger organization to include UX requirements in business requirements documents, change control boards and software review boards.

Start to integrate UX into other environments of the organizations, such as customer support and walk-in centers.

Stay up to date with the latest trends and research (read!).

Go UX!

Dr Marco Pretorius (@PretoriusMarco) is the UX Manager at the Western Cape Government. Marco holds a PhD from the Department of Computing Sciences at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University focusing on institutionalizing User Experience in Government. He is an HFI Certified Usability Analyst (CUA) and is South Africa’s first CUA of the Month.

 Marco's research is available at uxstrategy.co.za.



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Comment by Marco Pretorius on September 30, 2013 at 5:34am

Hi Jeffrey - thank you very much! Certainly agree with you - patience...it does not happen overnight. Thank you for sharing your article - very interesting read. As you say in the article "...bringing along the people takes time and a great deal of effort". 

Comment by Jeffrey Easton on September 24, 2013 at 11:22am

Excellent article Dr. Pretorius!  I started an internal UX practice at JPMorgan Chase and I teach the HFI 'Institutionalization of a Mature UX Practice' course here in the US, and your lessons learned ring true.  I would just add a good measure of patience - changing culture and process takes time and perseverance.  You may want to take a look at my recent post on how to create a more user-centric culture within your organization.

I look forward to reading your research and encourage you to keep us all up-to-date with your progress and future accomplishments.

Jeffrey Easton

User Experience Strategist

Human Factors Int'l


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