Meet Antoinette Colaizzi, A Champion for the User

As a UX Researcher and Strategist, Antoinette Colaizzi has over 20 years in the field leading design and research efforts for Web-based, mobile, and desktop applications.  She is currently a managing consultant at IBM Watson Health and an IBfeature-2M Design Thinking practitioner.  We spoke recently about her career journey from systems engineer through the early days of “usability”, and the path to User Experience.  
These are really exciting times in the UX world.  Tell me how you entered the field of usability.

My undergraduate majors were Computer Science and Psychology, an uncommon dual degree at the time.  I was always fascinated by both human behavior or cognitive psychology and technology but the UX field did not exist with that title.  I later received a Master’s in Computer Science and started my career at Bellcore as a systems engineer working on front-end development.  That was where I first got exposed to usability engineering and user interface design.  That role involved writing user interface requirements which placed me at the forefront of what was to become User Experience.

I’m curious about what usability and User Experience meant in the 1990’s?  What was it like for you?

Well back then it was known as usability engineering and consisted mostly of usability testing in the late stages of development.  As I became adept at writing user interface requirements I became an advocate for the user which meant standing up to the development team and evangelizing the importance of considering the user during the product development life cycle.  I had to remind them that they were not the user they were designing for.  Companies were just beginning to understand the importance of usability.  They ticked it off their lists but did not effectively impact usability or experience.

What kinds of research methods were being used and how have they evolved?

As I mentioned before, the process was mostly usability testing as one of the final steps prior to product release limiting its effectiveness. Today, there are several research methods within a User-Centered Design (UCD) framework allowing for specific application to the system being tested.  Significant to the field evolving from usability engineering to User Experience is UCD or design thinking.  Whereas usability engineering occurred late the development cycle UCD is a multi-disciplinary process occurring at every stage in the development cycle involving researchers, users and developers.  It is now highly interactive and collaborative process.

Do you have a preferred research method or specialty?

Research methods are applied based on the application and research goals so researchers need to have a varied tool box.  I probably enjoy working with Contextual Inquiry (CI) the most.  It lets me spend time with users in their environment and experience an interface in the real world.

What would be an example of Contextual Inquiry from one of your current projects?

Right now I’m part of a team at IBM iX (IBM Interactive Experience) working on cognitive solutions for the healthcare sector.  Using the Contextual Inquiry approach I got to be in an active hospital emergency room as patients were being brought in and treated.