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It is better
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Usability
(November 24, 1999) At first pass, it seems straightforward. Usability means clarity, simplicity, authenticity and ease of use. Obviously, the more usable a website is, the more effective it is. Right?

Well maybe not.

Without going overboard, it seems to us that usability (as currently understood) includes a great deal of baggage from the military minds who first coined the term in the 1970s. Their problem was discovering a method to ensure that recruits could navigate the complexities of complex electronic military hardware and the associated technical manuals.

At that time, the US Armed Forces were undergoing a radical transition. The draft, which kept a constant flow of white college educated workers in the pipeline, was ending. The military's vision of its future included lots of new employees with only moderate literacy. They were scared and more than subtly racist.

The earliest examples of usability improvements included the operating manual for the M-1 tank. Technical complexity was reduced to four ideas per page. The comic-book style was designed to be read in pictures, not text. Everything that could be simplified was. The message: please don't think, just look at the pictures. From a 100 page handout, the manual grew to over 3,500 pages. It was very easy to understand.

From there, usability evolved into a design discipline in the software industry. You may notice a certain sameness in software design. The principles of usability and usability testing, which have grown to include focus group style testing, produce a bland and universal output. The object is to deliver to the lowest common denominator.

The Engineering mind can be somewhat predictable. One of the rules of the game is that anything is better if it can be reduced to a formula or a procedure. In that regard, engineers share a lot of common ground with MBAs. It is predictable that the global Engineering community would embrace a view of usability that was formulaic. With their decidedly 20th Century mindsets, its no surprise that the Marketing and Sales communities have widely adopted the concept. After all, conventional usability testing looks and feels a lot like focus groups. The output resembles advertising taglines.

Cynicism, predictability and familiarity have conspired to deliver a view of the Web that is decidedly backward looking. As the "great unwashed" increasingly use the net with their virtually free PCs, we can only imagine that it will get worse. We're guessing that it will take web designers as long as it took the Military to understand that their fears are mostly groundless (about 25 years).

Until then, the usability of a website will have to strike a very difficult balance. To the extent that a web page evokes passion and engages the reader's heart, it has a very limited appeal. To the extent that it is usable (in the conventional sense), it is devoid of passion. From here it looks like you have to choose one or the other. Either optimize a page for broad consumption (dumb it down) or focus on a very tiny audience.

Interestingly, Recruiting, which demands the delivery of passion and engagement, may well be at the cutting edge of the evolution of usability tools.

The web creates a very intimate communications environment. While usability design is a necessary component, building on the mediums' inherent "heat" is a critical piece of wildly successful Recruiting. This means that Recruiters ought to be better at using the Web to accomplish both objectives.

In short, we think that the kinds of improvements suggested by conventional usability consultants are an important starting point. But, they are only a beginning. Learning to use the Web to convey just the right message to just the right person is a step beyond the conventional. It involves constant improvement and an eye towards perfection.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Sugar, Spice, Everything Nice


(November 23, 1999) You walk into the room and the electronics dominate. A PC, a CD Jukebox, a Pager, a Cell Phone, a Wireless land line. She's talking on the land line (flipping between conversations with call waiting), reading the secret codes on the pager, chatting on AOL, sending email, listening to the latest Hip-Hop.

Two friends are in the room as well. Armed with pagers, cels, laptops, and the latest 2.5 mile radius land lines, they are also conducting multiple channel conversations.

Sometimes, the three of them email each other even though they are in the same room.

They expect seamless communications between their friends on all five simultaneous channels (land lines, cel, pager, email, chat). They talk with each other while engaging their social networks through some form of media. They absorb the latest sounds at the same time. They are 16 and a little less agile technically than their younger siblings who add a layer of videogame interaction to the mix. This particular group will be the entry level workforce in 5 years. They are young women. Many of their peers are entering the workforce today.

There will be fewer of them than the number of jobs that need to be filled. They bristle at the idea that a company can't keep its communications technology up to consumer standards. They'd go crazy waiting a month for a new computer or competing for a second phone line. They will expect communications to be orderly and intensively networked.

The capital investment required to employ this emerging workforce is higher than it was for the baby boom. Bureaucratic Information Technology systems will demotivate them.

When we devote our articles to the future of Online Recruiting, it is not the far future we're talking about. The generational changes that drive the labor shortage are also technical and social in nature. The changes coming to the workplace are more significant than you might imagine at first.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.


Death of A Resume


(November 22, 1999)

We've been asking people some simple questions recently.

  • Have You Recently Prepared A Resume?
  • How Long Did It Take?
  • Was There Any Pleasure Involved?
  • When Do You Plan To Do It Again?

    In general, anyone who has recently created a resume felt like they were forced to do so as a part of the job hunt. It took from one day to two weeks to accomplish. No one liked doing it. Almost everyone would rather not do it again. Why?

    Resumes are a baby boom era invention. They require a massive effort and a change in focus. The only people who enjoy creating them seem to found small businesses devoted to the subject. The obscure more than they disclose. They seem to require a kind of behavior that resembles outright lying.

    Have you ever seen a resume that said..."In my last assignment, I screwed up the following things...Here's what I learned?" It very rarely happens. It's more likely that a resume will describe the accomplishment of an entire team instead of the accomplishments of an individual.

    Resumes make their creators feel inadequate. The conventional wisdom says (roughly) "Get it all on one page; Tailor it to each opportunity; Emphasize Managerial Behavior; Show that you took responsibility; Provide evidence of problem solving skills." Most people, however, don't spend their time analyzing their track records in terms of how it will look on their Resume. People who do make lousy employees for the most part.

    We're tempted to think that the Resume was designed as a tool to create entry barriers on a market that featured an overabundance of workers and a scarcity of jobs. Because it forces people to characterize themselves in ways that are unnatural, almost no one feels really good about their Resume. No one wants to do it again.

    In a labor market characterized by the need for speed, the Resume is an obvious target for reengineering. Given the flawed information that a standard resume contains and the pain it generates, we're expecting to see relatively rapid changes as the software required to manage non-resume profiles gets better.

    -John Sumser


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