September 22, 2009: Putting the User First, Remotely

Join us for our next meeting where Mark Thompson-Kolar will discuss “Putting the user first, remotely” at Cengage Learning … and your company.

In today’s era of agile methods — when software is developed quickly in sprints and ease of use often is crucial for success in a fierce marketplace — companies of all sizes benefit from hearing users’ input early and often. Smaller-scale, remote user testing can give firms of any size the ability to efficiently and effectively gather vital user-experience information without spending a lot of money or time.

Discussion Summary

A traditional model of software and web site development has been to gather requirements, build the program, and then see how the finished product performs in large-scale user tests or directly in the market. However, many companies are learning that having users try the software during the development process reduces the risk of major (or minor) usability problems, and leads to better software with fewer costs.

Cengage Learning has placed “Focus on the End User” as the top element of its mission statement and is bolstering its usability culture. This summer the company ran a program of weekly remote, smaller-scale usability testing in Farmington Hills.

An in-house team of three, consisting of two interns from the University of Michigan graduate School of Information and the User Experience Manager, performed almost two dozen remote user tests on a variety of the company’s products. This provided a wealth of actionable suggestions to guide programming teams. Mark will discuss how it was done and offer suggestions about how your company can put these methods to work.


Mark Thompson-Kolar is a master’s student at the University of Michigan in the School of Information. He’s studying information architecture, interface usability and content strategy and aims to work in the Ann Arbor/Metro Detroit area when he graduates in 2011.

Before his current studies, he was a newspaper editor, designer and manager for 18 years at daily news media companies in Michigan and Indiana. He has prior bachelor’s and graduate degrees from University of Michigan.


Washtenaw Community College, Morris Lawrence Building, Room 105


Wednesday, September 22 from 6:30 to 8:30pm

Cost and Registration:

Free, open to the public
Please RSVP via online registration.