In Woody Allen’s classic film Hannah and Her Sisters, poor Woody, in the throes of an existential dilemma, demands of his father: "So why were there Nazis!" Shuffling into the kitchen, his father shrugs and replies, "How should I know why there were Nazis? I don’t even know how to work the can opener."
That scene took place 19 years ago, when electric can openers were relatively new and were a misery, what with their tendency to suddenly release the lids of pineapple and tomato sauce cans, dropping their sticky, runny contents all over countertops. But, in retrospect, those were the good old days – usability-wise. Correspondence, for example, involved the use of a pen, and did not require that the router connecting the would-be writer’s wireless laptop was in proper working order and receiving a strong enough signal to enable a good connection with an Internet provider, which might or might not freeze upon receiving a "send E-mail" command.
Five years after Woody’s fictional father exposed his lack of can opener operation expertise, an association to make separating canned peaches from their tin prisons easier was born. Called the Usability Professionals’ Association (www.upsassoc.org), it tackles so much more than can openers. Its members – psychologists, design engineers, graphic designers, behavioral scientists, and a range of other professionals – work on better design for plane cockpits, websites, cell phones, TV remotes, voting booths, car dashboards, the structure of organizations, products of all kinds for aging baby boomers, and so much more.
To promote and advance this work, the organization is holding World Usability Day on Thursday, November 3. There will be 80 events in 30 countries, and two are taking place not far away. Philadelphia’s event, at 5 p.m., includes a usability museum displaying everyday objects that illustrate exceptional or awful usability, wanted posters of bad usability, and mock usability tests. It takes place at Bossone Hall at Drexel University. Visit worldusabilityday.org for more information.
Even closer to home is an event taking place at the CoRE building on the Busch Campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, at 7 p.m. For more information on the free event, E-mail to email@example.com. The theme for this year is usability in E-Government, and so the New Jersey chapter (www.usabilitynj.org) is staging its event around an examination of the websites of gubernatorial candidates Jon Corzine and Doug Forrester. "It will be completely non-political," promises Chris Koster, a Scotch Plains-based usability consultant who is organizing the event.
The idea, he explains, is to determine whether it is easy for users to get information – particularly about issues – from a visit to each website, and if it is easy to find out how to donate and to volunteer. Many features of each website will be analyzed. Ease of use is vital on a government website, says Koster. "If you can’t find what you want, you’ll click at random, get bored, and leave," he says. This pattern does not serve democracy well.
Koster earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Kean College in 1975 and went on to earn a master’s degree in social psychology from New York University. He then spent a long career at AT&T/Bell Labs and its successor, Telcordia, before joining the ranks of riffed New Jersey telecom workers, and starting his own consulting business.
"I’ve been doing usability my whole career," he says. Demonstrating the range of settings in which the science is put to use, he says that his telecom work was invisible to the public. It involved the behind-the-scenes work needed to switch calls, route traffic, and handle Yellow Book queries smoothly.
The effects of usability science are out in the world, too. "A lot of the things that you touch are evaluated by someone with a usability background," says Koster. But, really, have all those microwave touchpads, inkjet printers, and TV remotes been evaluated well enough?
Possibly not, says Koster, whose own personal nemesis is the cell phone. "The displays are too hard to read," he says. "The buttons are too close together and hard to press. And how do you back out of a mistake? There’s no ‘help’ button."
More needs to be done, he concludes, in what tech users everywhere, struggling through 576-page users’ manuals for their 3-inch high tech devices, will quickly recognize as a gross understatement.
The Usability website cites no less a personage than HRH Queen Elizabeth complaining to a Sony executive that she can’t figure out how to use her television remote – there are too many arrows. (And she, presumably, has staff to help untangle its mysteries). On the same site, a usability engineer has written a long account of his (failed) attempts to get the GPS system on his Hummer to work. Among other things, his complaints included the fact that the $3,000 system can only be used if its DVD is inserted into the car’s stereo, making it impossible to listen to CDs while driving. He even turned to his tech-savvy 20-year-old niece for help. After a 30-minute test drive, she gave up.
While Koster is as puzzled as every palace aide and computer-raised 20-year-old when it comes to why so many tech products are so hard to use, he does have fascinating insights into how much information consumers can be expected to absorb in learning how to use – and in using – devices of all sorts.
"There’s a rule of seven-plus-or-minus-two," he says. "It’s controversial," he admits, after explaining that it means that the average adult can memorize seven items, give or take one or two, in any given category.
He throws out a pop quiz. "How many area codes can you name?" Without benefit of much thought – or a pencil – I rattle off 609, 212, 201, 770, 215, 732, and 718. Yup, seven. Given a little more time, I (probably) could have remembered my brother’s central Florida area code, and the area codes I call for interviews in big cities. But, no doubt about it, seven was the most I could reel off in an instant.
Items used more frequently will be remembered more readily, says Koster. A person who calls all over the country every day probably could name more area codes. But the take-away lesson for product designers is that the average person can be expected to remember only so many things – about seven to be exact – about each product. The cell phone user, therefore, could be expected to remember how to turn on the phone, turn off the phone, dial it, retrieve messages, save contacts’ information, set a ring tone, and send a text message. Anything beyond that probably isn’t going to happen.
"Don’t throw too much information at the consumer," is Koster’s advice.
However, showing why psychology is important to the science of usability, he allows for an exception. "Motivation is important," he says. If a person is desperate to play a video game all of his friends are raving about, he may be willing to go to heroic heights to master the game, no matter how poorly it is designed, no matter how much material he must memorize to play it well. A mix of intuition and engineering, behavioral science and field studies, usability is growing in importance as our must-have devices grow in complexity. As commerce moves online, sales depend on easy-to-navigate websites; as elections are won or lost based on whether voters can figure how to cast a ballot, democracy depends on it; as Woody’s father – and the millions like him, who only want to open some beans, dial up the football game, or make a cell phone call – become increasingly frustrated, our collective blood pressure levels, and possibly our sanity, hinges on it.
Advice on Business Formation
What’s the right vehicle for your business? Your invention may truly be that better mousetrap the world has been seeking. Your marketing may be as keen as Starbucks. But the third side to the success triangle comes with selecting the right business formation for your company.
Corporation, partnership, franchising, going business-to-business or directly retail: each provides an adequate vehicle for getting the product into the client’s hands. Which one you select, unlike other business choices, is as much a matter of personal fit as fiscal advantage.
Entrepreneurs, whether still in the planning or busy with customers, can receive help from the workshop, "How to Choose the Right Business for You," on Thursday, November 3, at 6 p.m. at Raritan Valley Community College in North Branch. Sponsored by the college’s Small Business Development Center, speakers include Thomas Walsh, an attorney with the New Brunswick firm Hoagland, Longo, et al; Ellen Ingraham of Aramo Business Development; and Bill Butler of the Entrepreneurs’ Source.
The son of a career New York City firefighter, Walsh grew up in Staten Island and earned his B.A. in political science from SUNY Cortland in l978. After gaining his law degree from New York Law School, he stayed in Manhattan, practicing in the area of defense litigation for a Greenwich Village firm. "Cases ranged from simple slip-and-fall accidents to major insurance battles," Walsh says.
Moving out to Long Island, Walsh got his first taste of business law when his new associates placed him in charge of real estate, contract transactions, and corporate disputes. Since 1989 he has handled corporate and commercial disputes for his current firm, using litigation, arbitration, or, as he puts it, "any tool that works."
Every business vehicle has advantages, but as Walsh notes, "each one has its own very detailed price, and that’s where it gets tricky."
Corp., LLC, LLP. While the corporation, limited liability company, and limited liability partnerships are all variants designed to protect owners, their fiscal restrictions are very distinct. Corporation is the choice for stability. As a legal entity, the corporation takes on a life of its own. In the law’s eyes, it is an individual, with all its profits and assets existing beyond the life of its shareholders or trustees.
This plus its limited liability for debt and most negligence are the good news. The bad news comes in the form of double taxation. At year’s end, the corporation profits are taxed first, before disbursement to shareholders, then again when each shareholder does his own 1040.
To avoid this double taxation, many owners instead form a limited liability partnership. It has become a favorite choice of professionals, such as physicians, engineers, accountants, and lawyers. The partnership profits are only taxed as income of individual partners. The partnership itself is never taxed. Additionally partners are not liable for negligence or malpractice. They are, however, liable for partnership debt.
Most recent on the scene, and a very popular choice for smaller firms, the limited liability company provides the flexibility of a sole proprietorship and the protections of a corporation. It is far simpler to establish than the LLP and demands no shareholder meetings. Additionally, an LLC owner can select his method of taxation – making himself an S or a C corporation or taking sole proprietal status.
The caveat here is that the limited liability veil is not as puncture proof as most owners envision – and it grows more fragile all the time. Be it a corporation, LLC, or LLP, each must register with each state in which it does business. Each of these states has its own laws regarding each vehicle. To keep your liability defenses up, Walsh strongly suggests maintaining an exhaustively detailed set of corporate books. The very existence of such ledgers will indicate a positive intent should litigation come your way.
Franchising. For some, a franchise is a way to take the entrepreneurial plunge with a life jacket nearby. For others, it is a way to gain a little competitive boost for an already existing business. In either case, the candidate usually attends the franchiser’s school and returns home with a voluminous tome of a contract. At school he has been taught all the services the mother company provides. Buried somewhere in all that paper are the obligations he must meet.
One such franchise candidate was a client of Walsh’s. For years he had run a successful one-person heating/air conditioning service. The franchiser promised him national advertising, potential client lists, marketing help, and more. Enticed, he took the course, then returned to Walsh’s office and hefted his contract onto the attorney’s desk.
Slowly unraveling it, Walsh informed his client that he would have to buy the franchiser’s truck, and purchase all his tools from the franchiser. Yes, he would get national advertising, but local ads were his responsibility. Cringing with each discovery, the client decided to keep his own truck and his own business.
The lure of a national name is great. "Franchising can be a very good low cost way to get into business," says Walsh. "And the costs typically are not hidden or dishonest – they are merely unanticipated. It’s just a look-before-you-leap situation."
Business to business. Generally, establishing a client base and product flow within the business community demands more time than does selling to the public. As many of B-to-B companies set up shop in industrial parks or office condos, it can also involve complicated real estate arrangements. "Lease agreements are fertile fields for missed nuances," says Walsh. Tenants may be required to contribute to the industrial park’s insurance along with its upkeep. They may be called upon to kick in whenever the landlord decides to upgrade the property.
Snow removal, building repair, heating, and air conditioning servicing may all be at least partially the commercial tenant’s responsibility. The uninformed tenant may find himself paying like an owner, but restricted like a renter.
Also, since most commercial leases are long term, lease holders can expect to get caught in a crunch at some time down the road if they need to expand to larger quarters, move out of state, or shut down altogether. Landlords are notoriously unsympathetic and quick to litigate. But contingencies can be negotiated before signing.
Retail. Marketing a product or service directly to consumers demands multiple layers of expertise. If you love your product, but detest kowtowing to the public’s whimsical taste, better deal with wholesalers. If you love the sales and marketing, make sure you have an excellent accountant and financial advisor to help with the books. Find your market niche, then find your needs, and get an expert to handle each of them.
Retailers invariably come up against governmental regulations. The town may let you put chairs on the sidewalk, but state code may not. Also, retailers are often eager to expand beyond their present space or to better locales. For that and other reasons, retail commercial leases tend to be shorter – two to five years. Walsh’s advice on choosing a site is to go for "something solid and a bit more costly. It’s always better than something cheap and nebulous." Frequently, retail tenants lease for five years at a fixed rate, with a renewal option "to be set at fair market value." Alas, the renter and landlord seldom agree on fair market value. Better to get that option as a nailed-down figure.
No type of business is without it’s problems, but remember that as your business grows, you can shift its vehicle. Today a sole proprietorship located in your garage, and named after your poodle. Tomorrow, a major corporate entity with an enigmatic, but definitely futuristic, name. – Bart Jackson
Help Bring Eddy Davila Home
In February Eddy Davila, worker, husband, and father of three American-born children, was taken away from his family and his job at Main Street caterers and restaurant, and deported. Since the federal Homeland Security office was founded following the attacks of 9/11, such scenarios are common in the Princeton area, says Maria Juega, chair of the board of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.princeton.edu/~cbli/profiles/LALDEF). "They’ve got the money, they have to spend it somewhere," she says. Actively involved in the defense fund, she sees up close the misery that this enforcement causes.
"Immigrants, and especially Guatemalans, who have been in the country for 10 or 15 years, who own homes, and have jobs, who are sometimes married to U.S. citizens, are taken from their homes at 5 a.m.," she says. "There is a knock on the door, and they are arrested in front of their children."
Visible all over the Princeton area, working in stores and restaurants, re-seeding lawns, and caring for children, "the Guatemalans are easy targets," says Juega. What’s more, there is virtually no way that they can become citizens. Employers, desperate for their help, can win them work permits. "That means that they can work in this country," says Juega, "but it doesn’t allow them to live here." The Green Cards that would let the immigrants sleep – as well as labor – in New Jersey are nearly impossible to obtain "unless you’re a Ph.D. astrophysicist or a millionaire," she says.
Juega speaks on "Telling Your Stories to Generate Interest and Partnerships" on Friday, November 4, at 8:30 a.m. at a United Way of Greater Mercer County-sponsored event on strengthening community resources through creative partnerships. The event takes place at the Better Beginnings Day Care Center at 318 North Main Street in Hightstown. Call 609-637-4918 for more information.
While Juega’s organization has a Princeton University-sponsored website, enlists professors to speak at its events, and works with students on field studies, it is independent. Currently without offices, the group hopes to raise enough funds for desk space from which a paid paralegal can help immigrants with legal issues.
Juega emigrated from Spain, where her father was in the Air Force and her mother was a homemaker, 25 years ago. She came by herself for "the opportunity, the adventure, the freedom." A graduate of the College of New Jersey (Class of 1992), where she studied economics, she lives in Princeton Township and works in financial services.
Her organization, along with the staff of Main Street, has been working hard to get Eddy Davila back to his job and his family. One of the last hurdles is the $1,000 needed to file the next round of legal papers. Anyone who would like to help can call Terri Lands of Main Street at 609-921-2777, ext. 2.
How to Interview for a Fortune 100 Job
Hiring at Fortune 100 companies is as much about behaviors as results. Companies want to know whether a candidate’s past actions match what the business needs right now. Although technical skills are necessary, behaviors that demonstrate leadership are essential, according to Daniel Domenech, director of human resources for Bristol-Myers Squibb Technical Operations.
"We are looking exclusively for people with both technical skills and leadership behaviors," says Domenech, "irrespective of their years of experience and how many years they have been working or out of work." For people who are not currently working, he advises keeping skills fresh through classroom training, networking, and reading journals. All of this shows that candidates are fully capable of performing the roles that a potential job will require.
Domenech will be speaking on "What Does a Fortune 100 Company Look for in a Candidate?" at the St. Paul’s Career Networking Group on Nassau Street on Saturday, November 5, at 8:30 a.m. There is no charge. For information call 609-924-1743.
Hiring decisions, says Domenech, are critical – to the company, to shareholders, to customers, to the community, and, of course, to the job candidates themselves. When managers at BMS are trying to assess candidates, they assess skills as well as seven core behaviors that the company believes all leaders need to display:
Leading strategically. "Not everyone is blessed with the ability to have vision and see where the company needs to go," says Domenech, but many people are involved in implementing strategy at some level. When making hiring decisions, BMS might look at whether a person was able to translate a corporate strategy into objectives and action plans; to manage tensions between stretch goals and realistic plans; to plan for contingencies; and to make choices in allocating resources around priorities.
Interviewers might ask how a candidate was involved in strategic planning for a specific project he had led.
Building alignment. This behavior involves aligning team or department goals and objectives with the goals and strategies of the overall organization. BMS’s stated mission is to extend and enhance human life, focusing on 10 key disease areas, and supporting each with appropriate levels of spending, R&D, advertising, and promotion.
A candidate for a human resources (HR) position, for example, might be asked: How did you translate the company’s mission for your team, both in different manufacturing plants and countries? Communicate directly. Certainly how candidates handle themselves during the interview is important. But managers at BMS are also trying to pick up on more subtle indicators. "It takes some courage for someone to be able to communicate with clarity, transparency, and honesty – not only the good news, but also the bad news," says Domenech. Interview questions might probe whether the person seeks multiple perspectives and listens effectively.
Driving performance. This behavior looks at the bottom line – the ability to consistently deliver on commitments, take ownership, and account for results, both within a person’s area of responsibility and outside. It also involves having clear and high expectations, both for oneself and others. An interviewer might ask about a person’s role in particular projects, including the results achieved.
Collaboration. "Teamwork means working across organizational, functional, or geographical boundaries to achieve company goals," says Domenech. It includes building strong relationships with team members, other partners, and other companies, and working collaboratively to achieve goals. BMS looks for examples of when someone had to work across boundaries, how they went about it, and how successful they were.
Energizing others. Managers have to be careful here. Just because a candidate comes across as energetic in an interview, this may not translate into everyday personas. BMS seeks people who create an environment that encourages continuous improvisation, innovation, and appropriate risk taking, while focusing their organizations on key priorities, adopting and driving positive change, eliminating barriers and work that does not contribute to organizational goals, and showing resilience and perseverance.
Domenech has some questions for people who have been unemployed for awhile. "Are they keeping positive? Are they out there networking and proactively seeking opportunities?"
Developing people. BMS wants managers who both help others improve their performance and prepare themselves for future roles. In particular, they want people who welcome feedback, respond to coaching, provide feedback, and recognize and celebrate success.
Domenech studied industrial and labor relations at Cornell University, graduating in 1992, and he received an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business in 2000. He attributes his strength and drive to his faith and his family, and his professional development to General Electric, where he went through that company’s human resources development program, trained as an HR generalist at one of its upstate New York plants, and then became primary liaison with an 800-person GE union contingent, the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers.
After leaving GE, Domenech became HR manager at an Allied Signal/Honeywell manufacturing plant in Claymont, Delaware. At the same time he covered the headquarters group of sales and marketing leaders in Morristown. Next he led the staffing effort for a $2 billion special chemical business and then, at 28 years old, became an HR director, supporting various manufacturing facilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Finally, he took a corporate staff role, in charge of HR excellence.
Five years ago, when it looked like headquarters would be shut down after the merger with Honeywell, he moved to BMS. Beginning as HR director in support of Latin America and Canada, his role expanded a year later to include Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and South Africa. In his current position, he supports 6,000 people in manufacturing, worldwide. "I am blessed to work with a world-class company," says Domenech. No doubt many of the job seekers he will be addressing would be delighted to land a job that would let them say the same thing. Volunteering his time, Domenech is helping to make that happen.
The coffers of the Architectural, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program of New Jersey and NJK-12 Architects’ "Build & Believe" program will be about $20,000 richer thanks to the second annual benefit held on October 3 at the Marriott Hotel in Trenton. The money will fund college scholarships for students who participate in the programs. Participating schools include Dickinson High School in Jersey City, East Orange High School, Trenton Central High School, Lawrence High School, and Ewing High School. Students who took part in the programs attended the event where they displayed their team projects, which included drawings and models.
According to Michael McEntyre Sr., NJK-12 director of business development, the fundraiser gave students an opportunity to interact with their chapter mentors, students from the other schools, and event sponsors.
"ACE exists entirely from the support of corporations, and from the enormous amount of time that is given by its mentors," McEntyre said in a prepared statement. "Through their collective efforts, we are making a difference in the lives of students. I especially would like to thank event sponsors Hill International and the Mechanical Contractors Association of New Jersey."
NJK-12 Architects is committed to helping students pursue careers in architecture, construction and engineering through its participation in the national ACE mentoring program and through its own "Build & Believe" program. NJK-12 Architects of New Brunswick, New Jersey’s innovative design leader in creating urban community projects is committed to giving back to the communities in which it serves.
The ACE Mentor Program was founded in 1994 by the principals of leading design and constructions firms to introduce high school students to career opportunities in the industry. "Build & Believe" was created by NJK-12 Architects as an opportunity for students in the Trenton area to learn about architecture and engineering and to learn valuable business and leadership skills through a four-week summer program.
For more information, call 732-296-6545 or visit www.njk-12architects.com
The Mercer County Bar Association recently approved funding for the Mobile Meals of Trenton/Ewing to offer a cultural sensitivity workshop. The association donated $800 to Mobile Meals of Trenton/Ewing, located at 546 Bellevue Avenue, Trenton, for a workshop for home care professionals, board members and staff.
The workshop was held on October 26 at the Fellowship Baptist Church in West Windsor and offered an opportunity for agencies involved in the community to become more aware of the uniqueness of people representing various ethnic groups and to better serve those needing assistance in the Mercer County area. Over 200 agencies and individuals were invited to the workshop.
"Our goal is to provide help and support for the residents and programs offered in Mercer County," Francine Kowalczyk, executive director of the Mercer County Bar Association, said in a prepared statement. For more information, contact the Mercer County Bar Association at 609-585-6200 or Mobile Meals of Trenton/Ewing at 609-695-3483.