Photo: Korey and colleague moderating a usability test of pharmaceutical packaging and related instructions. 

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Korey Johnson conducting a usability study

Human Factors Alum puts his Knowledge to the Test


By Lisa Heer

We all use technology on a daily basis, but UI Alum Korey Johnson thinks about how we use that technology every day, and makes improvements in some interesting areas.

After earning his M.S. in Human Factors Psychology, Johnson began work at User Centric, Inc. (Greater Chicago Area), a company which is essentially contracted by other companies to test their products or interfaces.

“I listen to the questions a client needs answers to and I propose a program of research that will answer those questions,” explained Johnson. “Sometimes it is a simple round of usability tests or contextual interviews. Other times it really is more of a program, starting with site visits, iterative testing, and design cycles and leading up to a summative validation study for a device or interface.”

Johnson ensures that project objectives are met and manages teams of specialists from day to day project activities. With his recent promotion to Associate Director, he also acts as a resource for his colleagues and works to create strategic relationships for the business.

While he works with clients in a number of different industries, he has lately been managing a large amount of research in the healthcare industry. “Because of my solid background in research design, I have been well positioned to help our medical device clients understand and adhere to the guidelines that have recently been put forth by the FDA, which are very much rooted in solid experimental design,” said Johnson.

Johnson attributes much of that background to his time at UI. After earning his undergraduate degree in Psychology from Lewis and Clark (Portland, OR) and working with as an intern for the Human-Machine Interaction team at Daimler, Johnson knew he wanted to pursue a career in Human Factors. To that end, he came to the University of Idaho in 2005 and worked closely with his major advisor, Dr. Steffen Werner.

“Dr. Werner was without a doubt the most influential and helpful throughout my two years at U of I,” said Johnson. “Steffen always pushed me to do more and do better, and as a result I got that much more experience that I took with me to the real world.”

Johnson said that Dr. Werner convinced him to take on an idea for a new graphical pass code system as the focus for his graduate thesis. By the second year of research, the project had progressed to the point that Dr. Werner suggested Johnson should participate in the Vandal Innovation and Enterprise Works (VIEW) business competition and try to build a company around the concept.

“This took some coaxing on Steffen’s part,” said Johnson. “I had interest and drive, but what grad student in their right mind goes out and looks for additional academic activities to participate in while trying to write their thesis? I would not have done it without his encouragement, and I am glad that I did.”

At the 2007 VIEW business competition, Johnson presented and defended his business plan for the pass code system, called Composite Scene Authentication (CSA), to a panel of potential investors. Johnson cites this business competition as a major asset in landing a job post-graduation.

“Second only to the research skills I learned from Steffen and the other human factors faculty, the skills I honed during the business plan competition have been the most useful to me in my current position,” said Johnson. “I would not have a job without having been able to demonstrate a proficiency in sound research methodology and behavioral psychology, which I learned from Steffen and the psych department. But I would not have been able to excel in my current position if I did not also have the skills of a consultant, which I developed and refined during the business plan competition.”

Johnson said those skills specifically included speaking effectively to a group, being able to answer pointed questions while maintaining composure, and instilling confidence in those who will ultimately provide money to turn a profit.

Which comes in handy, since his primary goal at the moment is to improve User Centric’s business strategy and strengthen the company’s business in the medical device industry.

Johnson has focused greatly on testing health care systems. One of the projects he worked on included formative usability testing on a pediatric vial kit. The objective of the study was to improve the kit’s instructions for use, eliminating confusion to ensure that at-home caregivers could correctly administer the medicine to children. User Centric’s suggested changes increased the success rate for proper assembly of the kit and administration of the medication.

In addition to bolstering User Centric’s healthcare industry clients, Johnson is working to establish a User Centric satellite office in Atlanta, Georgia.

“We have a number of clients in the Atlanta area, and there are a number of organizations in the area with whom we would like to partner. In addition, we are in frequent need of a second city in which to conduct usability tests. Even in a large city like Chicago, if the target demographic for a product we are testing is sufficiently sparse we may have to travel to another city just to get additional feedback from this demographic,” said Johnson.

Looking forward, Johnson will continue to focus on client and product management, and corporate strategy. At the same time he will be looking to expand User Centric’s business in Atlanta and is always looking for the next new product for which he can improve the user experience.