November 9 is World Usability Day, an initiative by the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and the User Experience (UX) community to promote the values of usability, user-centered design, universal usability, and celebrate progress toward equal access to digital technology. We would like to celebrate these important initiatives by spotlighting current HCC and UX students in the Department of Information Systems. Yetunde Okueso is currently in our MS in Human-Centered Computing program. She received her undergraduate degree in Literature from the Babcock University in Nigeria in 2017 and is expected to graduate from the MS HCC program in December 2023.
Okueso kindly shares with us how she first became interested in HCC, her thoughts on usability, and why she is choosing to continue her education at UMBC.
Yetunde Okueso: This was in 2019. I used to write commercially (copywriting) for different companies. This involved a lot of research into human behavior which I enjoyed. While doing that I discovered UX writing, which made use of some of the things I learned from my creative writing classes in undergrad. Using words to make people’s experiences better was fun. UX writing put me in spaces where I began interacting with people in the design space and I started to find user experience fascinating. Because of my background in the arts, I decided to get my masters in something related to User Experience so I could be more knowledgeable about it. As an international student, I also wanted to be at a minority-majority university since it was going to be my first time in the United States. I really liked that the department had professors from different career backgrounds so it was comforting for me, coming from a non-science background. It was a little scary at first, but finding out that there were professors who did their undergrad in psychology but are now HCC professors made me confident that I could pursue a career in HCC.
Information Systems: You are currently a Graduate Assistant for Community Development at UMBC’s Residential Life. How has your experience been and how are you balancing the position with your school work?
Yetunde Okueso: My experience as a Graduate Assistant has helped me get more comfortable studying in a different country. I have been able to maximize other skills like student advising, event planning, logistics, organization, and serving on different committees. This position puts me in a student-facing role, which allows me to immerse myself in being a student in America. This experience is sometimes lost especially when you are a graduate student and an international student, but I get to be an all round student as a Graduate Assistant. I am able to balance it because my department reminds us that we are students first, so we are allowed to independently come up with a time schedule that works well with our academics and speak to our supervisors if we think we may need more time for our academics. So far, I have been able to balance the two well.
Information Systems: Could you talk a little bit about what usability is and why you think it is important?
Yetunde Okueso: Usability for me is accessibility. How can users easily meet their needs with your product? This is important because even though we refer to them as users, users are real people with real lives. If users can pick up your product and get their needs met without thinking twice about it or pausing their day because of how efficient, effective, memorable, and safe you have designed your product to be, then you have contributed to making their lives easier. And this is why I think usability is important.
Information Systems: What are some examples of good design you have seen that meet usability goals?
Yetunde Okueso: Google Workspace, iPhone, Uber, and Canva. My favorites are Google Workspace and Canva. Google Workspace fulfills usability goals of effectiveness and efficiency for me as I enjoy how easily I am able to do collaborative work across different tools in the workspace. As a student, I find myself working on multiple projects at once, sometimes synchronously, sometimes asynchronously. Google Workspace is very effective in making these teams work well. Canva is another good design that I like. I described earlier how to me, usability is accessibility, and Canva is very effective in helping non-professional and professional designers create lovely designs. It has good utility and provides a correct and wide range of functionality to help users meet their needs.
Information Systems: The 2023 theme for World Usability Day is Collaboration and Cooperation. What do you think is the role of collaboration and cooperation in solving the world’s biggest challenges through usable design?
Yetunde Okueso: I am currently taking a Participatory Design class which has really been helpful in shaping my thinking when it comes to users. I think collaboration and cooperation come into play when designs are made with the input of the users. If designers, researchers, and programmers collaborated and cooperated with users and spent enough time getting to know the needs of users, maybe we could have more usable products. Collaboration and cooperation play an important role in creating more usable designs.
Information Systems: What are some things we can do in our day-to-day to be more aware of the impact that usability has on user experience?
Yetunde Okueso: More intentional conversations with users might be more effective in creating personal awareness of the impact usability has on user experience. Also spending some time every day learning something new about your users can be very helpful. There are so many resources now, from podcasts to YouTube, and other social media applications where you are able to gain valuable insights into the lives of users, and this could help you start to recognize ways you can design a better user experience for them.
Information Systems: What are your plans after graduation?
Yetunde Okueso: I plan to continue my education. I’ll be starting the PhD program at UMBC in the Spring of 2024. The more involved I was in my class projects, the more I found the research part of HCC interesting. I have been privileged to work on some interesting projects, and a current one is a Data Storytelling project that is allowing me to combine skills like storytelling that I cultivated during my undergraduate studies, with user research skills that I am currently learning at UMBC. Being able to learn while working on interesting projects like these has been instrumental to my decision to pursue my Ph.D. In addition, the faculty were readily available to answer my questions concerning the program which made me feel supported and that’s why I decided to continue at UMBC.